Saturday, 10 November 2012

Learning to use keybinds

How do you control your character in World of Warcraft (or any other similar MMO for that matter)? There are two main ways: with keybinds and mouse turning, and with clicking and keyboard turning.


The latter is not efficient. It’s easier to start playing with, and people can become quite proficient with it, but it has two major drawbacks:

  • Attention – every time you need to click an ability, you’re diverting attention away from what’s going on around you and focusing on your UI.

  • Speed – it takes time to move your mouse and aim it correctly at a button, and turning with the keyboard also takes a lot longer than with the mouse.

Many ‘clickers’ know this, but after up to eight years doing things the same way, it can of course be very hard and uncomfortable to change.

By using keybinds and mouse turning, you can avoid both of these major issues. With the right UI setup, you can even hide your main actionbars completely and track cooldowns via other means. You can also react to things much more quickly and calmly, and you can cast your spells in the correct with barely any thought; it becomes an automatic response, something you can do with your eyes closed.


It’ll be hard at first, and your performace will be terrible while you get used to it, but the benefits are worth it.

The first suggestion I have regarding specific bindings is to try to limit the keys to those which are easily reachable, i.e. `, 1, 2, 3, 4, Q, E, F and Tab. Those, combined with Shift, Ctrl and/or Alt, should give you more than enough to control all important abilities.

Ideally, to practice you’d start a new character and start from the beginning with keybinds, but obviously that’s not always practical. Instead, I’d suggest clearing your bars of all your main abilities, and building things up gradually. Start with your main ‘filler’ ability, and bind it to something like 1. Practice pressing it and moving around, switching targets, and most importantly, not looking at your keyboard or actionbars. This is important. The whole point of using keybinds is so you can keep your attention on important things like where mobs are, whether you’re standing in fire, etc.

Finally, since you’ll be using the mouse to turn, re-bind A and D to strafe left and right. It’s a quicker way to move out of bad stuff, and you can also cast spells at mobs whilst strafing away from them, if you turn in a very slight circle.


Training dummies are invaluable when learning keybinds. I used them all the time, even though I only play with keybindings, because the practice is so valuable. It’s useful to use Recount to measure your performance on them, although obviously the numbers you generate are only meaningful to you personally, as a way of measuring your progress.


I mentioned ‘the right UI setup’ earlier – this is another factor that’ll help you stay on top of what’s happening. Addons like Fortexorcist, PowerAuras, NeedToKnow and TellMeWhen are really good for letting you keep track of important things like cooldowns, DoTs and so forth in an easily monitored way.

The general idea is to put the most important things near the middle, then less important things further out. As an example, if you’re a shadow priest you’ll want to keep track of Vampiric Touch and Shadow Word: Pain, and the cooldown on Mind Blast, so you’d put those near the middle. Something like Shadow Fiend, on the other hand, has quite a long cooldown so you could relegate it to a lower level of attention.


As I said, I know it’ll feel horrible and slow and uncomfortable, especially at first, if you’ve never played this way before. I truly do believe, though, that it’s a better way to play, and the only way to reach optimal performance.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Guild Wars 2, from a WoW player

I bought Mists of Pandaria. Pre-ordered, in fact, and yet since it was released, I’ve played WoW exactly no times. Moreover, I stopped playing WoW a couple of weeks before MoP came out, and it’s all because of Guild Wars 2.

It seems I’m missing out on quite a fun time in Pandaria, too, since by all accounts this expansion is so far really good; Zoe is certainly enjoying it. Thing is, I’d been looking forward to GW2 for a long time, and conversely, getting less and less enjoyment out of the tail end of Cataclysm, to the extent that I only really logged in to level my mage a bit, and occasionally and begrudgingly help guildenfolk get their Iron-Bound/Rusted Proto-Drake from Ulduar.

Guild Wars, though. I like it a lot. It’s very pretty, but in a more realistic way than WoW, although this does mean places that look somewhat less diverse than Azeroth – one grassy hill looks much like any other. Still, natural-looking pretty is still pretty, and there’s enough variation in both scenery and architecture to keep it interesting.


I find combat much more interesting and exciting in GW2, with lots more movement and reactive use of abilities. You really have to pay attention to the mobs you’re fighting, and what they’re doing; there are no enemy castbars or DBM-style timers or anything like that, so you need to respond appropriately based on their actions. One particularly memorable example is a boss in Ascalon Catacombs explorer mode (which is a bit like WoW’s heroic mode). He has an ability where he raises his sword to charge up a spell that pulls everyone in line of sight to his feet, then he does a lethal whirling attack that will almost certainly kill you. Generally you have two ways of avoiding this: use your dodge skill right at the critical moment before he pulls you in, or get out of LoS. As a mesmer I had a third option: my Feedback ability, which reflects ranged attacks back on the caster. Turns out the boss’s AoE pull counted, so I pop that on him just before he does it, and he knocks himself over instead :D

Combat in dungeons also differs from WoW in that there’s no specific ‘tank’ or ‘healer’ role – mobs will attack whoever they feel like, and everyone has a decent self-heal and other survival-oriented abilities they need to make use of. Certainly you can orient your traits (sort of like WoW’s talent points) and skill points (also sort of like WoW’s talent points) towards survival or crowd-control, or towards group-focused abilities like buffing and healing, but everyone is expected to do damage. If someone gets downed*, anyone can revive them; if a mob’s attacking you, don’t expect a tank to taunt it off you.

These differences mean fights feel a lot more frantic and desperate, and playing well is much more about utility and awareness compared to playing WoW’s more narrowly-focused specialisations. It means that even on my level 52 mesmer, I could still be useful when grouping with three level 80 characters, although clearly GW2’s level scaling† meant they were much less overpowered than otherwise.

* ‘downed’ means you’ve lost all your normal health and are sitting on the floor with a ‘reserve’ health bar that slowly drains. You have a few basic abilities, including a weak channelled self-heal, and if you’re lucky you can fill your reserve health bar and rally, i.e. get back up and join the fight again. Other players can help to revive you, too.

† your level is scaled to be appropriate for the zone you’re in, so in the starting areas you’ll be down to level 3 or so, and in dungeons you’ll be at the minimum level required for them, e.g. 40 in Ascalon Catacombs. However, you still keep all your weapons, armour and abilities, albeit also scaled down, so you will likely still be more powerful than someone at-level.


Another significant difference in GW2, that I noticed most when watching Zoe quest in Pandaria, is that there is no mob tagging. Instead, if you make a significant contribution to the damage on a mob (the wiki says between 5 and 10 percent), you get loot from it, and credit for killing it if an event or quest asks for that. Likewise, there is no competition among players for gatherables (ore, herbs and trees), since collecting from one does not deprive others from it. All of this, plus the way you can partake in quests just by being in the right area, mean there is a very strong feeling of cooperation, with everything designed to encourage it naturally.

Of course, since everyone is on the same side, there’s no Horde-vs-Alliance–style world PvP – you’re never in danger of accidentally attacking someone who’s flagged, and getting trounced by them as a result. Player vs player in GW2 is an entirely separate thing, so it can’t interfere with the cooperation aspect.


So, those are my impressions after playing Guild Wars 2 for a couple of weeks, from the perspective of someone who has played World of Warcraft since just before Wrath of the Lich King was released. I still haven’t hit 80 on my highest character, and even when I do, I want to level a few others just to see how they play. Maybe by the time I’ve done that, an expansion will be nearing. We shall see.

In the meantime, if you want to drop by I'm on Blacktide (EU) server and my display name is Caer.1605, and I’ll probably be on either my mesmer, Yalaera, or my guardian, Aerlocke.

Monday, 1 October 2012

K10 again

I’ve not used my K10D in quite a long time, as I couldn’t trust it to focus accurately. I’d tried adjusting it using the debug menu tricks, but couldn’t ever get it to work satisfactorily, and to even adjust it meant faffing around with downgrading firmware temporarily.

K10D with F 50mm f/1.4

Recently though, for reasons I can’t recall, I decided to see if I could improve it, and found some useful information about how to enable the debug menu (to adjust AF) even with firmware 1.3 on the camera. After much faffing, and the eventual discovery that the magic text file you put on the memory card needs to have CR + LF line endings (i.e. need to be in Windows format, not Unix or Mac), I got it working, and now my camera focuses properly most of the time with the F 50mm f/1.4 lens shown in the picture. It still struggles with backlit things, but I think that’s more an issue with the lens – it flares pretty badly when there’s light shining into it, so the AF sensors probably have a hard time seeing what to focus on.

So anyway, turns out, the K10D can still produce some nice images! In good light it’s quick to focus and with the 50 the pictures are plenty sharp (I’ve yet to try it again with my 35 and 50–135). In low light it’s not so good – noise at ISO 1000 is about the level of my X100 at 3200, and there’s a noticeably weaker response in the blue channel compared to the X100. Still, if I stick with good light, the camera can produce some very nice images, especially with the 50–135 lens.

garden gloves

All of this means I now feel like I have more options, photographically: although the X100 will remain my primary camera, I can now also trust the K10D when I want to use a longer lens. I don’t anticipate needing to do this a lot, at least not in the near future, but perhaps something will come up. Either way, it feels good to shoot again with a camera I’ve grown so familiar with over the years.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Godmother's Guild Questions

The Godmother recently posted about Blizzard’s announcement of the Guild Mentoring Program, wherein select guilds on each server will take in and ‘train’ new WoW players, the idea being, I guess, to improve the overall standard of players.

She also posted a list of ten questions that applicants to her guild are asked, and while I originally was going to answer them in a comment on her blog, it turns out I have quite a lot to say in some answers, so I’m posting them here instead.

What’s your favourite joke?

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar. The barman says, “Is this some kind of joke?”

What’s the best 5 man instance currently in game?

First instinct is to say Vortex Pinnacle, just because it’s so pretty, but I’m also partial to the ‘subterranean city’ aesthetic of Blackrock Depths and Grim Batol. I think I’d like BRD more if it was a normal zone, rather than a dungeon that you always feel pressured to complete quickly.

What has been the best show on TV over the last 25 years and why?

Everyone says The Wire. I’ve only seen the first few episodes so I don’t know. Really enjoyed Warehouse 13 and Game of Thrones, but they’re both fairly recent. Going back 25 years… well, that’s tricky cos 25 years ago I was only 6 ;)

As for why: WH13 because it’s just really good lighthearted entertainment. Also Joanne Kelly. GoT firstly because it’s so well made, and second because it’s unusual to see a fantasy series be so popular, and may help get people to take the genre more seriously.

If you had a choice what would it be: cake or pie?

Pie. I love pie, and pie can be sweet or savoury. So versatile!

Should Blizzard put more crowd control back into dungeons?

Yes. No. Maybe. I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand it’s a way to make dungeons harder, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a very good way to do that. It doesn’t require skill to perform, and it disrupts the flow of a group. Some players may be fine with that, taking each pack of mobs one by one, working out the best way to tackle them. Others, though, might prefer the high-speed thrills of doing a dungeon as fast as possible, and when these two opposing ideologies meet, QQ ensues.

I think dungeons should be harder, generally, and I like where Blizzard is going with the Challenge Modes – if they incorporate crowd-control, then it’ll be OK because players will need skill to pull it off quickly.

Have you left Trade/General chat channels at any point, and if so why?

Only until I got a monitor big enough that I could have guild chat separate from everything else. On a busy server it got annoying having trade/general break up conversations in guild.

Also a couple of times when idiots started up with the ‘anal’ spam :-/

Who would you choose as the next James Bond?

I can only think of Michael Fassbender at the moment, and for no good reason.

What’s the best change Blizzard has made to the game in the last twelve months?

Probably Raid Finder. I know it almost always has a few morons, but letting more people access raid content is a good thing, and it gives ‘non-raiders’ something else to do at endgame. I’m quite excited to see what Blizzard do with it in Mists.

Who was better: Blur or Oasis, or some random third band you may now name.

Oasis. They had more good tunes.

If you had to ask me one question, what would it be?

When is Mists coming out?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Fuji X100 First Impressions

On Friday I ordered a Fuji X100, having desired one for a long time and only then possessing the means to buy one. I am terribly impatient so I chose next-day delivery, thus it arrived around midday. Hurrah!

Low Light Quality

Zoe had worked 70 hours that week so she was still in bed when the camera arrived.

Zoe on the phone to her sister

That there is ISO 3200 pushed 1 stop in Aperture. You can see the noise if you look closely.

The same day the camera arrived, we went for a visit to Zoe’s parents. Her nieces were there too, giving me plenty of opportunities to practice with my new camera since they are very photogenic. Moreover they’re quite young so they don’t sit still for long, and the house isn’t super bright so it was be a good chance to see how well the X100 copes in less than ideal conditions.

In short: it performed well. Most of the shots I attempted were successful, and of the misses, most could be put down to unfamiliarity with the camera.

Here’s Zoe showing Gabby and Izzy her iPad:

Zoe showing Gabby and Izzy her iPad

To give you an idea of the light level, this is another ISO 3200 shot (though not pushed this time) at f/2.8 and 1/90 shutter. Still fairly dark.

Forgive me if I am repeating something you may already know, but this kind of noise performance is quite new to me. My last big-sensor’d camera was a Pentax K10D, and it only goes up to ISO 1600, whereupon it’s a mess, if it can even focus at all in low light.

So X100 image quality is wonderful. You probably knew that already.


Before I got the camera I ready more or less everything I could find written about it. One thing that a number of people commented on was the lack of stiffness in the dials, the issue being how they might get moved accidentally. I don’t understand this. To me they feel just right: easy to move with just a thumb, but not loose that they’ll turn if you look at them funny. Goldilocks.

There has also been much wailing over the OK button, and on this I agree entirely: it is bad. Here is the problem:

The tiny OK button on the Fuji X100

My thumb is not pressing the button in this picture, merely resting on it. Bear in mind also that the whole ring around the button is itself clickable in four directions. I guess you could get used to it, but I plan to make my life easier by glueing half a small bead or similar to it.

The ridged ring in the picture above is part of the four-way pad control too but can also be rotated to navigate through menus and such. It is really cheap-feeling, with barely discernible detents and a generally very loose feel. I guess maybe it’d be useful for quickly spinning though the ISO menu but I’ve had the camera on Auto-ISO all the time, so I dunno; mostly I just try to avoid turning it when I’m clicking up and down in the menus, which isn’t so difficult.

Some have complained about the AF mode switch: Fuji rather foolishly put AF-S mode in the middle of the three positions and the design of the switch makes it rather fiddly to set it to the middle. This hasn’t much bothered me (yet?) because I’ve not felt the need to use anything other than single-focus mode except when I tried manual and found it pretty much as useless as everyone else.

Oh the shutter button. The half-press is light, and the full-press has a really nice click to it. The complete lack of lag after focussing feels great: click and the picture you just took appears immediately. Very satisfying. I think this might be a large part of why so many people find the act of taking pictures with the X100 so pleasurable.


I mentioned earlier I use Auto-ISO (heresy! burn the heathen!) which means the default function of the Fn button (bring up ISO menu) isn’t much use, so I changed it to toggle depth-of-field preview. I like this, especially since you can turn the aperture dial and see the results in real-time without any annoying changes in brightness.

As of firmware 1.2 the function of RAW button can also be changed to something less pointless than toggling raw/JPEG recording. I’ve set it to toggle the neutral-density filter; this comes in handy more often than you might expect, particularly given the X100’s minimum ISO of 200. Here’s a photo at f/2 on a bright sunny day:

Postbox at f/2 in the middle of the day

Only 1/400 shutter speed, instead of the unreachable 1/3200 it would otherwise have needed.

The aperture, shutter and exposure compensation dials are very handy. Being mechanical controls, you can set them without even turning the camera on, and you can tell at a glance what they’re set to. A few people have bemoaned the lack of half- or third-stop detents on the aperture and shutter dials but honestly I don’t see this as a problem, at least not for me and the way I shoot.

The shutter dial mostly sits in the A position, making the camera aperture-priority. As such, whole-stop aperture adjustments are perfectly fine, since I don’t imagine ever needing finer depth-of-field control than this provides – the difference between f/2.8 and f/4 is already fairly subtle, never mind f/2.8 and f/3.5 (one stop versus half a stop, in case you’re not familiar).

If you really do need that finer adjustment, incidentally, the rear jog-dial thing has you covered, though obviously it’s not as efficient as just using the main controls.


No article about the X100 is complete without mention of its groundbreaking hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder. I shan’t repeat what others have written, but there are a couple of things I’ll mention that I’ve not read about.

First is the EVF’s refresh rate. It’s mostly low, and I say ‘mostly’ because after you lock focus it suddenly goes lovely and fast like the rear LCD. I don’t know why it can’t be fast all the time, maybe it’s to save battery power. Maybe it says in the manual, I haven’t looked (nor needed to).

The second thing is a little more complex: the use of the EVF itself, in contrast to the OVF. In the days before digital, all viewfinders were optical of one design or another. There was no way to see what the film saw without actually developing that film, which was obviously very much not a real-time process. Hence the invention of light meters, both external and internal, to assist the photographer in setting the right aperture and shutter combination. All photography involved an element of guesswork, in other words.

Enter digital. Now we can see what the sensor is seeing, in real-time. We can see before we take the photo whether it’s too bright or too dark. This make the craft side of photography considerably easier than before, which I think is amazing. For the beginner and expert alike, the relief from worrying and guessing means more mental capacity to focus on what’s really important: the picture itself.

I am a convert, I think. I’ve not really had the camera long enough to make up my mind, but for now I’m leaning toward preferring the EVF. This surprised me, since I enjoy using the optical finder on my little Ricoh GRD3, and I’ve been using SLRs for years without live view. I think Kirk Tuck might be responsible.

Perhaps it’s just lack of practice. The OVF is certainly nice, and on a sunny day the difference in brightness between it and the electronic finder is considerable. And yet, despite the live histogram in the optical finder (!) there’s still quite the element of guesswork when it comes to avoiding small blown highlights. Who knows, maybe once I’m more familiar with the camera’s metering and imaging habits I’ll be able to trust it more and use the wonderful bright OVF worry-free.

More pictures on my flickr photostream

Monday, 11 June 2012

Pugging Priest

with apologies to Vidyala for the title

I said earlier on twitter that I’d be bloggering about my experiences levelling a priest mostly via the dungeon finder. Here is the first post in what might become a series if I remember to keep writing them.

Yaera is the priest, blood elf on silvermoon-eu server. She is level 28, so you won’t see any tales of deadmines, stockades and whatnot. The dungeon finder says I’m eligible for two dungeons: gnomeregan and scarlet monastery graveyard. I have heirloom cloak but that’s not enough really to make much of a difference, so I’ll be doing those two dungeons for a while. Perhaps three runs so actually not that long really.

Not a lot to say about experience thus far. It’s been mostly good groups which is not what I was expecting. Maybe I’ve purged the bad memories. Had one gnomeregan where we wiped several times at the same place on the first boss (the slime thing) but everyone was cool with it and laughed it off, no swearing.

I’ve transmogged my heirloom staff so it looks like a plain wooden stick. I don’t like to advertise my heirlooms because it just encourages tanks to take too many risks and my mana can’t hold up to that yet. Also the loom staff looks kinda silly and everyone has one and I guess I’m a hipster

So here I go I’m going to click the Find Group button and see what comes.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Spoilt for choice

This is a long post, with lots of ‘back story’.


I like photography. I have a flickr account, with over five thousand photos on it but to which I haven’t uploaded anything in nearly a month. On the other hand, I’m finding myself using Instagram almost every day lately, and really enjoying its simplicity: shoot, caption, upload. Done.

I have an iPhone 4S, and the image quality from its tiny camera is surprisingly good; certainly, for Instagram’s small square photos, displayed on the phone’s screen, the camera is plenty good enough.

And yet… and yet it’s not enough. The pictures are nice, yes, but the process of taking them is not. The iPhone is horrible as a picture-taking machine: the shutter button is in an awkward place, the lens is right in the corner where you want to put your fingers, there’s very limited control over exposure and white balance, and it’s just awkward to hold when you’re taking a picture. I always feel like I’m about to drop it.

So the pictures are nice, but I don’t enjoy actually taking them.


I also have two ‘real’ cameras: a Pentax K10D, and a Ricoh GR-D III. The Pentax is capable of recording some nice images, the controls are great, and I have some nice lenses to put on it; it can handle a wide variety of photographic tasks. But, it’s basically broken, because it can no longer focus properly; somewhere in its five-and-a-half year lifespan, something’s gone out of alignment, and the cost of fixing it is more than the worth of the camera.

The Ricoh, like the Pentax, has nice controls, and is very good at the thing I bought it for: street photography. It’s small and lightweight, and with the screen off (using an external optical viewfinder) and the focus set to 2m, it’s really fast. Having the screen off also means I can leave it switched on and not worry about draining the battery in an hour. For all its strengths, though, the kind of image quality the Ricoh records is just not ideal for much beyond street photography – it’s too rough, and the colour is weak out in a way that’s hard to fix in Aperture. It’s not very versatile.

Thus to the point: I wish to buy a new camera, and I’ve narrowed my choices down to two: the Pentax K-5, and the Fuji X100. On the face of it, this would seem to be a non-issue: the K-5 is clearly better at more things, and I already have lenses to go on it, so what’s the issue? Here’s where I run into difficulty explaining myself. Bear with me.


My first camera was a Fuji 4800z, a funky little two megapixel thing with an unusual upright design. It’s what ignited my love for photography, and I took it everywhere, and shot everything with it. At the same time, I read and read and read all about the technical side of photography, learning about apertures and shutters and focal lengths and so on. I came to feel limited by the amount of control the 4800z allowed, despite coming up with ways to trick it into doing what I wanted. When it got stolen from under my nose by a thief in London, I resolved to replace it with a more advanced camera, one that would let me control aperture and shutter speed and so forth. That camera ended up being a Canon S50, which… well, I didn’t like it, because it was really annoying to use.

Eventually, I got my first SLR: a Nikon D70. Now this was more like it! Fast, comfortable to hold, good controls, and a really sharp sensor. The D70 was a classic, I think: the first really good enthusiast-level digital SLR, and I did some of my favourite work with it.

The D70 is pretty big. Not big like a D4, and certainly not as heavy, but it eventually the novelty of owning an SLR wore off and carrying it around became rather burdensome. I wanted something smaller, and my attention was drawn to a little Pentax SLR, the *ist DS, further prompted by Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer. The DS isn’t particularly fast, but it has a nice viewfinder, it’s comfortable to hold, and above all it’s small. With the 21mm pancake lens, it can fit in a coat pocket.

So after a couple of years it broke (possibly because I dropped it onto concrete after tripping over a flash cable), and to replace it I got the aforementioned K10D. Yes, I bought a big camera to replace the little camera I got to replace a camera I felt was too big. Hence my dilemma.


The K-5 is smaller than the K10D, but it’s still quite big and heavy. This is where the X100 comes in. It’s small, smaller than the DS, and lighter. It has a great sensor, good viewfinder(s), and a very good lens. That lens, though, is fixed focal length, a 23mm f/2. Fortunately, that’s a focal length I find most natural and versatile: not too wide that you have to get right up close to everything, and not too narrow that you can’t get any context in. Just so.

A fixed focal length lens, even a usefully-specced one like on the X100, is of couse not as versatile as several interchangeable lenses, and therein lies the heart of the issue: will the X100 be sufficiently versatile?

When I come up with reasons to justify buying the K-5, the list effectively boils down to having the capability to do photoshoots, and to not let my existing lenses go to waste. The latter point is tied into the former, in that my two best lenses are ones I only really used for photoshoots anyway (and sometimes gigs). Given that the last time I did a photoshoot was February 2009, over three years ago, it seems weak justification.

Variables: that’s what an SLR introduces. When I think about my favourite photographs, almost all of them were taken at short-to-medium focal lengths. They’re also usually ‘documentary’ or ‘life’ pictures, far from the artifice of the studio. This is the appeal of the X100: it’s a simpler camera, with fewer choices to make. It’s also much, much nicer to take pictures with than an iPhone.

Training Dummy

One thing my Instagramming has made clear is the value of simplicity. When I’m using my phone I don’t have to worry about choosing a lens or focal length (or even white balance or ISO). It’s about as close to literal ‘point and shoot’ as you can get, and I rather like it. I feel like I’m past the point of wanting to fiddle with camera settings just because I can. They’re mere technical details, that in my ten years of photography I feel I’ve internalised completely. Moreover, a lot of the time they’re not even that important compared to the admittedly nebulous concept of ‘artistic vision’, something that can’t really be taught or memorised, since it’s a fundamental part of who someone is.

With a small, fixed-lens camera, I feel somewhat paradoxically liberated, free to focus on what’s important, which I guess means I ought to buy the X100, and not worry about my inability to do things I’m probably not going to do anyway.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Rear view: two tips for tanks

My main character is a tank. He’s pretty well-geared, can handle the Hour of Twilight instances without much bother, and shrugs off most of the damage from the regular heroics without breaking a sweat.

I also like to think I’m a good tank player – I keep aggro, I get mobs facing away from the group, and I use my defensive abilities sensibly to make the healer’s life as easy as possible. I even pull fast enough that most DPS don’t get impatient!

Recently though I’ve been playing much more on my rogue, and have noticed a few things I also do on my tank that I didn’t realise were so important:

Keep still

This one is simple: if you have aggro, and all the mobs are in front if you, stop moving. You don’t need to, and when you do, the mobs will try to follow you. When lag is involved, they will often move very erratically, making life much more difficult for melee DPS players.

Playing on my rogue, I’ve been grouped with numerous tanks who just seem unable to keep still for more than two seconds, even when they have aggro on a pack and there really is no need to move around. They bounce around the place, dragging the mobs in various directions for no apparent reason.

I know sometimes you do have to move, perhaps because a mob is behind you, or new ones have turned up and are eating the healer. That’s fine, but try to keep your movements to a minimum, and if possible, move in a straight line. One larger movement is preferable to several small adjustments, too.

Move the boss away from the bad

This one comes up a lot on Peroth’arn in Well of Eternity: the boss puts a circle of fire under a player, and they need to move out of it. Simple, right? Not so much when that player is a melee and the tank doesn’t move the boss away from the fire – as a rogue, I need to stand behind my target to do my job properly, but so many tanks just think that because they’re not standing in fire, everything is fine. Never mind that the boss itself is standing in a large circle of green flames, so the melee can’t attack it without getting burned.

Sure, I could stand in front of the boss, next to the tank, but that’s generally a bad idea for two reasons: one, bosses (especially dragons) often have a cleave-like ability which hits anything in front of them, and two, by standing in front of the boss my damage output is reduced because I keep getting parried. Just as a DPS player pulling or getting aggro makes the tank’s job harder, having to stand in front of a boss (or being unable to attack at all) makes the DPS player’s life harder.


There’s other types of Bad, too, like little circles of light that heal the mobs, or smoke bombs, and so on. The tank needs to move the mob/boss well away from these things so the DPS can do what they’re there to do.

Or in other words

Think about the needs of the whole party, not just your own survival. Look at where the players in your group are standing, and think about what you can do to make their life easier.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Worldview: Searing Gorge

It’s not the first place one thinks of when talking photogenic locations on Azeroth, but then, neither was Feralas. There are plenty of interesting places in Searing Gorge, which has made for some nice screenshots.

The look of the zone lives up to its name – very hot and dry, with numerous smoking vents and lava pools. The searing was not natural, either: it was caused by the first summoning of Ragnaros to Molten Core. To the south, sitting astride the border with Burning Steppes, is Blackrock Mountain, a huge edifice that dominates the southern skyline.

The Dark Iron dwarves have a strong presence in Searing Gorge, with the mining complexes of the Cauldron and Slag Pit being their main operations

Thorium Advance 1
One of the land entrances to Searing Gorge is via the narrow pass cut by Horde forces from Kagarth in Badlands. This path leads to a camp run by the Thorium Brotherhood, called Thorium Advance.

Thorium Advance 2
As you approach the crest of the pass, you get a good view of the Cauldron, the large mining pit dug by the Dark Iron dwarves who are in control of the zone.

Cauldron graveyard
A little way west of the pass is a graveyard overlooking the Cauldron.

Mithril deposit on Firewatch Ridge
A mithril deposit on Firewatch Ridge, in the north-west. Blackrock Mountain is clearly visible on the far side of the zone.

Path leading up to Thorium Point
One of the two main flight paths in the zone, Thorium Point is a neutral settlement run by the Thorium Brotherhood, located on a plateau above the Pyrox Flats.

A war golem guarding Pyrox Flats
Pyrox Flats is a large Dark Iron settlement housing numerous cranes and other machinery supporting the mining operations below. These war golems patrol the area.

Dark Iron smelting operations on Pyrox Flats
Dark Iron dwarves operate large smelting machinery on Pyrox Flats.

A Dark Iron lookout tower
A Dark Iron lookout tower located at the top of the ramp that leads down into the Cauldron.

Ramp leading down into the Cauldron
A large steep ramp leads down into the Cauldron, overlooking a lava pit inhabited by fire elementals.

Walkways and lifts on the northern edge of the Cauldron
These walkways and lifts line the northern edge of the Cauldron, providing access to the Slag Pit quarry.

The Slag Pit quarry 1
The underground Dark Iron quarry below Pyrox Flats, known as the Slag Pit. Most of the actual mining work is done by slaves – captured Horde and Alliance folk, generally.

The Slag Pit quarry 2
The excavation in the Slag Pit is quite extensive. Dark Iron dwarves patrol, keeping the slaves in line.

Dark Iron miners
Not all of the work is done by slaves – there are living quarters above the quarry for Dark Iron dwarves, overseen by [Chambermaid Pillaclencher].

Lava below the Slag Pit
The lower reaches of the Slag Pit contain large pools of lava, and are home to flame elementals, all of whom are minions of Archduke Calcinder.

Iron Summit
The Iron Summit is a neutral settlement, established after the Shattering. It sits upon a large hill overlooking the western end of the Cauldron.

The entrance to Blackwing Descent
Located half way up the eastern edge of Blackrock Mountain is the entrance to the Blackwing Descent raid. This platform was also where the fight against Nefarian, the lord of Blackwing Lair, took place. In the distance are the mountains of Dun Morogh.

Southern entrance to Stonewrought Pass
Stonewrought Pass is a long tunnel leading from the north-eastern corner of Searing Gorge up to the eastern edge of Dun Morogh. Prior to the Shattering it was kept locked, but is now open for anyone.

Northern edge, bordering Dun Morogh
The northern edge of Searing Gorge borders the Alliance dwarf zone of Dun Morogh. The two are separated by a great chasm.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

World Re-View

Quite some time ago I wrote a series of ‘screenshot’ posts, each a sort of visual guide to the best of a particular zone on Azeroth:

Unfortunately after the first four it felt like I never had any spare time to make more (they take quite a while to make), and then I eventually stopped playing World of Warcraft entirely for a time, with World of Tanks and then Skyrim serving as distractions from too-much raiding and guild drama.

I am back, though, and with a fancy new computer that can take WoW with every graphics setting turned up to full without even trying. Moreover, I’m no longer in a guild that demands so much of my time, so I’m free to wander about Azeroth at my own pace, enjoying the sights and taking screenshots of them. This is somewhat easier now, with Cataclysm and the ability to fly everywhere, and it also allows for more variety of camera angles (I often wish I could fly in real life when taking photos!).

My original plan when starting the series was to document Azeroth as it was before the Shattering hit (so I started with… the Burning Crusade zones, which were unaffected. Good call), but clearly that was too ambitious a task for someone of my motivation level. So, the plan is now to show Azeroth as it currently is – something to look back on in years to come and remember fondly the time we spent there.

The only thing left to decide now is which zone to photograph next!


Thursday, 23 February 2012

They all fall down

I’ve been levelling a rogue lately, when I’m not being required to tank raids for my guild. Initially I figured I’d go with Subtlety spec since it seemed to be the most suited to levelling due to lots of up-front burst damage; indeed, it’s quite nice being able to just Ambush-Eviscerate and have most regular mobs die there and then.

But. There was talk in the guild of forming an arena team or a rated battleground group, and, based entirely on hearsay, I’m under the impression that when PvPering, one should spec one’s rogue Subtlety.

Thus, I bought a secondary spec, and made it Assassination, because, um, Combat sounds boring? I don’t really know. So what if only Combat gets to use weapons that aren’t daggers too? Daggers are where it’s at, man. Yes. So little Daera is Assassination, and it’s quite fun too, especially now that she has the talent that makes Slice and Dice auto-refresh.

Onward to The Point: as I write this, she’s level 75 (Tricks of the Trade, woo!), and last night I got Violet Hold as a random dungeon. Now, I only started playing World of Warcraft about a week before Wrath of the Lich King came out, so I’m hardly a grizzled veteran. I do, however, distinctly remember doing Naxxramas as a guild, and having to really push the damage on Patchwerk because we all needed to be at around 1,500 DPS lest he reach Enrage. Some people were struggling to do that, at level 80, and only some of them were rubbish players.

Last night, though! Did Blizzard really change the damage output so much when the Great Stats Overhaul of 4.0 arrived, or is it normal for a partially-heirloomed rogue to do 3,400 DPS at level 75? OK, sure, I used Vendetta and the fight was over before that even ran out, but still, really? We got the ethereal dude who does the balls of light thing, and he died before his first orb got anywhere near us. Must have been down in like 15 seconds.

This isn’t fun, especially not for classes that take a while to get going, like shadow priests. Having completely trivial boss fights means they might as well not even be there, and it means new players are not prepared for raids or Cataclysm dungeons.

It’s quite a long time since I levelled my death knight up through those dungeons, but I really hope the bosses there last longer than 30 seconds each. I have a strong suspicion they will, in part just because most heirloom gear doesn’t scale past 80, so there will be fewer vastly over-powered players running around. I want to use the dungeon bosses as practice for when I get to 85 and can start raiding with the rogue, meaning I want to practice on fights that last a good couple of minutes at least (there’s only so much you can do on a training dummy).