Thursday, June 24, 2010

The One Button Healer

Cooldown Management for the Holy Paladin

We're a faceroll class, right? At some point in her life, a paladin is informed that she is a one-trick pony: beacon does her job for her and all she has to do is spam one "I-WIN" spell till the boss is dead and she gets to collect her competition-free spellpower plate.

Certainly, much of the utility a holy paladin brings to a raid doesn't show up on Recount, so it's tempting to think this way. Cooldowns are the hallmark of the paladin class - the buttons we get to press, while situational, are powerful when they apply to the encounter. We have lots of different ways to pepper our casting with extra abilities.

I have five pieces of advice for managing cooldowns, while geared towards holy paladins, it can be applied to all classes that bring utility. In future posts I'll go into more detail on specific abilities.

1. Don't hesitate to use an emergency ability because 'it might be more needed later'. Odds are, it will be ready again before you know it. There are caveats to this suggestion, specific times the RL might ask you to pop a cooldown in a certain encounter, but in general waiting for the golden moment to save the raid will mean those abilities just never get used. Two minutes is a short time in the game, even five minutes is quick in the scope of a raiding night. That's lots and lots of opportunities to do more than just spam Holy Light, and adds depth to the class (for me) because I'm always on the lookout for opportunities to use my other abilities.

2. Know how to press the button. This sounds really juvenile, eh? Just hit the button, right?! When a cooldown is necessary, timing is everything. I had to teach myself and practice until my keybinds were muscle-memory. Clicking a portrait then clicking the button was just too slow for me. Conversely, my targetless cooldowns are not bound, since it's one-click to activate Aura Mastery, Divine Shield, and D-Sac. However you set up your UI, having emergency buttons easy to use is important to performance and fun-factor.

3. Have a plan and choose to use before you fight. With information on the internet, we can find out encounter-specific information before we set foot into the raid. Knowing the expected length of the fight (or the enrage timer) can give you an idea of how many times you'll be able to use a cooldown in a fight (and when). For progression, this can be important as the fights will be lasting the longest and you'll be stretched as you're learning. Progression fights are where our cooldowns are the most powerful. For a five-minute fight, I try to squeeze in two uses of two-minute cooldowns and one use of three and five minute buttons.

4. Paladins love sandwiches. A mistake I made in my learning phase was that I would blow cooldowns back to back to back and a tank would die because I had gone three to five seconds without actually casting a heal (this counts for judgments, Divine Plea, Beacon, and Sacred Shield as well!). I forced myself to learn the sandwich technique - cast Holy Light, use the cooldown/non-heal, cast Holy Light. Knowing your next three moves will help execute them with the least amount of gap in healing and keep your tank from a deadly spike.

5. Know which abilities trigger the global cooldown. Some do, and you have to wait until it resets (one second to one-and-a-half seconds depending on your level of haste). Others don't, and you can begin casting another spell as quickly as you can start casting. For instance, Divine Plea triggers the GCD while Divine Illumination doesn't.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Confessions of a Haste-Snob

The pre-expansion lull is here and with summer coming, we're recruiting like mad. I've been looking at apps of all kinds and I'm surprised by the interesting things that can be learned from one or two ganders at the armory.

The first thing I look at when I'm looking at a healer app is their haste. That one little (or big) number tells me a lot about how much research a player has done about their character (and is the first clue among many that you know your gearing).

That's not to say I have extremely high requirements or I expect ridiculous levels of gear. My guild is casual, we're still a few bosses away from Kingslayer, so I am realistic. However, I don't equate 'casual' to 'I don't have to understand how haste affects my healing'.

With that in mind, the haste cap for the healing classes (provided with research from some of my favorite bloggers)...

Discipline Priests. Thanks to borrowed time and bubble spam, haste stops being great earlier for disc than most other healers. Penance Priest suggests 150 for a bubble bot with ideal raid buffs. I'd be willing to forgive a bit more (raid comps are often less than perfect) but a haste-gearing (especially -gemming) disco is a red flag to me if that player is serious about 25s.

Holy Priests. After several days of research I have to say I'm still clueless as to what haste "cap" is for holy priests. With lots of instant casts, cooldowns, and serendipity, I understand that haste is valued much lower than other stats for holy priest. Bobturkey has the math in his 3.3 gearing series.

Resto Druids. Restoration Druid has a chart detailing the amounts of haste needed with all levels of raiding and talents spent on haste-goodness (with 775 being the catchall number). Suffice it to say, a resto druid with less than 500 haste is a red flag for me. If that seems steep, I think that less than 700 haste either indicates low overall gear OR prioritizing too much critical strike rating.

Resto Shamans. Since raid healing shamans are supposed to stack haste with their haste cap being a lofty 1269, I look pretty closely at haste for Shamans. Less than 800 is a red flag that gems or itemization aren't in order. Like paladins, I'm looking for enough yellow gems to blot out the sun. Tank healing shamans are another beast, but I have yet to run into one.

Holy Paladins. Ah, this one is tricky. I have almost 1000 haste now. I've admitted I'm a haste snob, and I would really try not to label someone a failadin just because I'm picky about my upgrades. But seriously. If you're a holy paladin and you want to raid, get 700 haste if you don't have it. 676 haste is haste cap for FoL with proper raid buffs, but you can keep stacking haste to get faster and faster Holy Lights - more haste is always better for a HL spammer. But Enlynn, you're wearing cloth and mail!

Yes, yes I am. I'm a haste-snob. The amount of haste on your gear says a lot about how much you read up on your spec. That's not to say that more is always better, considering that there is too much for some classes and not enough for certain others. But I'm not kidding: the first stat I look at is haste. I can make a snap judgment from that one number that will be confirmed by the rest of a character's armory.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Recruiting for Cataclysm

I noticed a couple of guilds on my server recruiting for Cataclysm (already?). At least one was a serious raiding guild who does 25 HMs, and they were clear: we have no room for you now, but we are recruiting you for the expansion, to be able to raid with us when we get to 85.

For the Guild...

This is a fantastic idea from the management standpoint. Coming up on summer, the fluctuations in the raiding roster are will be dramatic, and having folks willing to jump on board and wait around for something to happen means you'll have some stand-ins when you need them. It's also great for the guild environment - new players who haven't raided with their guild yet are likely to be friendly and helpful, peppering guild chat with good morale.

Telling players they won't be able to raid until Cataclysm is honesty, and I can appreciate that. Their long-term goals are to always have plenty of players able to raid, and recruiting months ahead of schedule means that even when some players quit (which is inevitable with expansions, between burnt-out tanks and healers or players of all roles who just don't like the new systems). Hats off to these guilds for anticipating (and covering) their needs well before they happen. They understand they need to recruit lots - now, when Cataclysm ships, and as players reach 85 and begin to raid.

For the Player...

If you want to raid, this is a terrible idea to join a guild knowing you're going to be benched for the next six+++ months. At least! Even if Cataclysm should come out this summer (which I highly doubt), there will still be the grind to 85, the grinding of heroics, and the waiting for enough people to do the same. We won't be doing Cataclysm raids before Christmas, and even that's an unrealistic timeline. With that in mind, why would you join a guild knowing you're going to be benched until then, if not months longer (can a raid spot in t11 really be guaranteed?).

It's one thing, if you've already killed the Lich King, to join this way. I can see how a player who's been there/done that, and needs a break until Cataclysm. This could be a sweet deal for you, because you don't have to fully retire, you just take a permanent benching, free of obligations for attendance and performance for a few months to prepare for the next expansion and maybe focus on some RL priorities in the meantime.

If you haven't done everything you wanted to do in raiding (I believe most of us haven't), you should consider your options. There are plenty of guilds ready to take you right now, and get you raiding this weekend. Perhaps they aren't as hardcore as the ones who are recruiting to bench, but odds are there's a good fit for your level of experience and the guild's level of progression, who'd be thrilled to have you right now.

The long and short of it is, don't be dazzled by a guilds achievements thinking that they have the right to treat you like a commodity. If you interviewed for a company who didn't want to hire you until 2011 (perhaps not even then
), would you take them seriously? Like I mentioned above, most guilds will be mass-recruiting when the level cap is raised AND as t11 is rolled out. Don't be fooled into thinking this is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You'll see almost every guild recruiting again.

(Taking a break from the Mario series to bring this up. Also, have a few more posts in the works for guild recruitment, holydins, and the healing team. For blog management, I added the RSS feed button, working on a new header, and I'm going to try to be better about tags so that they produce better categories).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mario Part III: It's All in the Details

Welcome back! Today let's dive right into the next installment of "All I Need to Know About Healing I Learned From Mario".

Part III: It's All in t
he Details

In Part II, I talked about location from a world perspective, but today we're going to zoom in and see what M
ario can share about his immediate surroundings.

In compliance with Theorem #1 (game art is good information), the environment offers clues as to what to avoid and what we can expect.
Games try to challenge us in different aspects of play. Mario might have to be light on his feet, solve a puzzle, outwit a foe, or even just kill quickly before he meets his own doom.

Entertainments of
all kinds are advancing in graphics but Theorem #1 still holds true. There are hints everywhere in the world - right in front of us - if we know what to look for. The names of the enemies we fight, the clothes they wear, and the patterns of the tiles on the floor are all information waiting to be used. Things we can interact with are often different colors than the background or have some indicator that they are there. If there's a lever near the door, odds are, it's there for a reason.

It's Raiding 101: Don't stand in the fire. "Fire" stands for all sorts of things, and identifying dangers before you approach them is key to survival. Mario's got to have a plan, and adapt it on the fly as new obstacles present themselves. There are
places you don't want to find yourself, and conversely there are places that can be 'safe' (at least for now).

Often, fights are designed wi
th special gimmicks or tricks. Bowser's bratty children all have special vulnerabilities that must be exploited if you want to escape the dungeon. Fights often have a special style of execution: some that require lots of activity (the spam we love to hate) don't have too much movement, while others that require lots of running around will give us breathing room to do so. The mechanics of a fight vary by encounter, but there are general rulesets of a game that, once learned, will help you learn later encounters more quickly and give you a better idea of what to expect as you progress in the game.

Not even Mario can teach you the meta-rules of a game, they aren't found in manuals, guides, or even on blogs. They are entirely within your own experiences, and can be changed (and supplemented) by expansion or even by tier of play. I could share mine with you, but it would be presumptuous on my part to assume that my understanding of a game world is the only one. I can only stress the importance of building your own game experience and learning from it.

In essence, I'm suggesting that
if you want to learn to do something, you go out, do it, and make a few mistakes. Mario may not succeed the first time, but there's green mushrooms (or corpse runs) to get back in there and attempt it again: a new strategy or a resolution to try harder. The most important thing is to learn something from the failure. Anything constructive can be clusterfucked. If failure isn't a possibility, is there any meaning in the success?

In Mario's world, mistakes are fatal but often obvious. He hits a Goomba and loses his mushroom power up. He hits a Koopa Troopa and it's game over. In MMO-style adventures, the consequences for actions and mistakes are often more subtle. The types of bungles in more complex games can be hard to pinpoint 'where it went wrong'. Healers, by nature, are grouped with others, which means more potential for error (and stranger offenses). Understanding the maxims of the game will help identify the cause and effect relationship between buttons pressed and results achieved.

So if Iggy kicks your butt the first time around, get
in there and do it again. Try a new plan, tighten up your strategy, or come prepared with an extra feather. But please: don't stop learning, and don't stop trying. The game is over when you do.

Next up is Part IV: I Get By (with a little help from my friends)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mario Part II: Brave New World

Welcome back to "All I Need to Know About Healing I Learned from Mario"! Part II: Brave New World

Pop Quiz: Where's Mario?

A. Vanilla Dome
B. Vanilla Secret 1
C. Climbing dangerous heights on a vine

Answer: (Sorry, it's a trick question) All of the above.

Much like in real life, our characters have many ways to convey their position in the game. Mario can't be in two places at once, but he can describe his location with different focuses: in a specific zone, in a region, or on a continent.
There's a lot of exploring to be done in a game, and being aware of where you are in the world goes a long ways towards traveling efficiently and not putting yourself in extra danger. After all, time wasted wandering around lost is time spent not playing, and dead Mario doesn't get to finish the level or dungeon.

ning the cartography of the game can be a crash course in and of itself, but it's vital to success. It's strongly in keeping with starting out in the starting area as I posted in Part I: Mario needs to travel step by step in the right direction to reach his destination. Video games are strongly tuned for degrees of power, so there are correct 'places to be'. They can be expressed in different ways between obvious markers like levels (and the abilities available to you when you reach it) or subtle delineations of gear and items. When the going gets tough Mario needs to assess the situation: is he in the wrong place, using the wrong ability, or teaming up with the wrong guy? (More on that later).

In MMO's, it can be very difficult to know where you're 'supposed' to be. Mario isn't punished quite as severely as a quester for wandering into a spot he's not ready for, but we can still apply his plumber prudence to other game worlds. Using the clues we can glean from the environment, characters, and players around us, we can put ourselves in the area right for our level of power and experience. It's more fun when the challenge is meant for you now, not last week or a month from now.

Learning to travel efficiently often gets easier as we advance in the game. Mario doesn't get the Warp Whistle or passage to Star Road at the beginning; likewise, we get riding mounts and more accessible travel routes as we experience the world. Every game has its own set of rules for travel and navigating the world, and learning those rules will help you get where you're going faster and in one piece.

Also a part of that ruleset is the different types of places found in a game. There are areas of safety to stock up on snacks or rest up, open plains of wandering creatures that may want to eat us, and caverns of dangerous villains where we dare not tread without companions. Returning to Theorem #1 (Game art can shows lots of stuff), I can look at my environment and make decisions about my surroundings before I step too far.

Would you take a nap here? I thought not.

Next Up, Part III: It's All in the Details