Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cross-posting to plug for BizMarx

I'm making a brief plug for my early-stage startup, BizMarx.  We're putting up a new series of blog posts to explain our product design and how we're going to help increase efficiency in the legal market.  You can read about it here:  http://blog.bizmarx.com/search/label/what makes bizmarx special.

In a nutshell, BizMarx is creating a 21st century solution for attorneys to share and edit documents with colleagues and clients. Our founders are practicing attorneys who experienced firsthand the inefficiencies and problems of managing legal workflow with little more than email and a document editor. BizMarx offers a better way—a simple, streamlined approach to document revision and client communication that is tailored to the legal industry.

The BizMarxTM solution is LawMarx. LawMarx will reduce drafting time by 15%, decrease the chances of costly errors, and keep clients in the loop by enabling attorneys, clients, and other stakeholders to work together securely and effectively. LawMarx will allow attorneys to spend more time doing billable work and less time performing administrative tasks, while significantly reducing embarrassing mistakes such as the “reply all problem” or mismanaged document drafts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoughts on Druid healing in 4.1

I really enjoy it, but it's still broken.  Does that make sense?

I'm not going to talk about raid healing, because other healers fill in for our gaps and problems there.  So lets stick to solo-healing a troll heroic as a druid.  It's doable.  It's not always easy.

We have a smaller toolbox than we used to:

Remember Blizz stating that druids' healing toolbox was plenty big, and thus we wouldn't be getting any new abilities for Cataclysm?  Well, they actually reduced it.

Lifebloom is no longer a real tool.  It sits on the tank 95% of the time, and can't go on anyone else simultaneously.  It's off the table.  Oddly, it still needs to be stacked up to three.

Nourish is pretty much only for use on the tank.  You can use it on a dps, but it won't fill an appreciable portion of their health, and it won't refresh Lifebloom, because they won't have lifebloom.

Healing Touch is pretty much only for use on the tank.  You can use it on a dps, and I do occasionally, but it's slow and mana intensive.  And a lot of these fights take you down to the wire in terms of keeping your mana pool above zero.

Regrowth is in a weird place.  It is our quick, emergency heal.  It costs a lot, but we can cast it quickly if someone is about to die.  The only problem is, it doesn't heal for enough to actually prevent death.  I still use it, but rarely.  A good 75% of the time I manage to cast it before my target dies, they die anyways, it just takes an extra two seconds.  The HoT portion is now essentially nonexistent, and it's only still there because druids and HoTs go hand-in-hand.

Rejuvenation is still our goto heal.  It's cheap for its total healing done.  I normally keep one on the tank at all times so I can Swiftmend is need be, and I toss them on any dps that drops below 80% or so.  And then pray that they don't go back in the fire until it's had time to work.

Wild Growth is still quite useful.  Assuming there is much group damage at all, I still try to cast it on cooldown unless I'm below 20% mana.  Low throughput, but high efficacy.

Tranquility can be salvation, but it's hard to know when to cast it.  If people are already below 10% health or so, it probably won't save them.  It takes a little while to stack up.  If you can't stand still for at least 5 seconds, preferably more, you shouldn't cast it because you'll need to break it early.  Finally, you sometimes lose the tank afterwards, because their HoTs have fallen off while you were channeling.  You need to spend 4 GCDs just getting them back on, and then you can start healing again.  Ironically, I find myself using Tranquility more as a Boomkin than as Resto.

Tree of Life almost never gets pulled out in 5-mans.  I should do it every encounter, just for the heck of it.  But it's really an AOE throughput cooldown.  You can have Wild Growth hit more people, and Lifebloom stacked everywhere.  That's useful in raid, but less useful where the problem is one or two people are getting pounded and we need a way to make up for the limited single-target throughput of the druid.

So, in the end, the vast majority of my time is spent casting Rejuv, hitting the tank with a Nourish or two, hitting Wild Growth on cooldown, and Swiftmending when necessary.  Regrowth, Healing Touch, Tranquility, Life Bloom, and Tree of Life all fall by the wayside except in special circumstances.

We need another button:

There are plenty of times I can see that someone is in trouble but just can't do anything.  They either die while my Healing Touch is casting, or they die despite my landing a Regrowth or two on them.  Sure, you can try to save up Swiftmend for this, but that cripples the rest of your healing, and makes Efflorescence useless.

The other healers have bigger flash heals or external damage reduction cooldowns.  They can just shield someone.  We need to struggle and often lose someone.

The result is that certain fights are just slow death marches for druid healers.  Venoxis in ZG, for example...we can't shield you if you have a toxic link, and we have no good way of getting you back up quickly in case it hits you again.  Even if we take Life Bloom off the tank, it can only be on one of the people who was Linked.  The final fight in ZA is another good example, especially if the cat and/or firehawk spirits are active.  As druids, we can keep people alive for the most part, but the entire group keeps inching down.  We can't stand still to hit Tranquility, and people just start dying one by one.  It leaves me wanting another button.


Well, we could get a shield.  I don't really like that.  Something along those lines, perhaps, but with more of a druid feeling to it.  Perhaps mushrooms could somehow function as a reactive healing item?  Like lightwell, but with no need to click it?  It would need to be on cooldown somehow, and you would need to be within a certain range of the mushroom, but I could see that working.  Perhaps it pops, reducing damage and putting a HoT on the first character within 20 yards to drop below 20,000 health, or something like that.  And you can only place three per fight, or you can't place one within 30 seconds of another one popping.

Alternatively, it really might be as simple as allowing us to have Life Bloom on two targets simultaneously.  Keep it on the tank and then use it to help with the occasional dps who gets low.

All I know is, something does feel off right now, as I've described above.  Hopefully, Blizz will take some steps to bring us in line with other healers.  (in raid environments, outside of strange fights like Chimaeron, I think that we're already there for the most part....we bring some really nice raid healing, with the bonus of lifebloom stacked on a tank.  we can also be tank healers, which we're good at, I just think it wastes our potential a bit).

So...it's been a little while

The Cataclysm beta wrapped up.  So did WotLK.  And Starcraft II, for that matter.  Lets go through this all for minute.

Cataclysm Beta:

I really enjoyed the Cataclysm beta (much more than live Cataclysm).  I've spent the past couple of months trying to figure out why.

I think that the answer is the combination of the people and the unknown.  In the beta, everyone was always trying something new, exploring someplace they hadn't seen before, and dealing with new and exciting abilities, bosses, and often as not, bugs.  Everyone was excited and enthusiastic.  Everyone was also friendly....there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie of the sort I haven't seen in WoW since the early days of Vanilla, when your average player still hadn't hit the level cap.  Nobody was expected to know everything, so people asked all sorts of questions and got all sorts of useful answers.  Almost nobody took time to mock anyone for asking.  Everyone was happy to help.  People stopped and helped others with quests...with finding the next hub...with finding ways around phasing problems...with figuring out new class mechanics...all of it.

That was fantastic.  I wish there was a real live server like that.

Cataclysm Live:

I enjoyed it for a few weeks.  I ran a few dungeons and few heroics.  My guild showed no inclination to raid.  I got bored and stopped playing for about six weeks.

I came back just as 4.1 dropped, and I'll admit I've really been enjoying the troll heroics.  They are big, essentially mini-raids.  They take real effort and coordination.

They are actually succeeding in transforming normal expectations for the LFG tool.

No longer are people laughed at for asking about and discussing strats before a boss attempt.  (at least, not so often)

No longer does half the group quit after a single wipe.  (at least, not so often)

No longer do people refuse to use crowd control.  (at least, when you have someone who can)

It has actually made people a bit more friendly and respectful, in my experience.  Everyone understands that it's hard.  The healer can't always keep you up, especially if you stand in anything.  The tank can't always keep the encounter completely under control, especially if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.  People are far less likely to start screaming L2P!!! and rage-quit.

However, the raids and general endgame is still pretty boring.  I like raiding, but it's hard to get people interested in it.  Everyone is concerned that it's way too hard, and unwilling to even give it a try.  The group that has given it a try is already halfway through heroic modes and getting bored.  Nothing else is available.  Archeology is pretty boring, and doesn't add much to the game.  Tol Barad has boring, repetitive quests, a gloomy atmosphere, and an "open pvp" minigame that's not anywhere near as much fun as Wintergrasp.

Subscriptions are dropping a tad, and we'll have to see if Blizzard tries to pull anything new out of a hat.  I wouldn't mind a world event, pocket bosses, or something of that sort.

Starcraft II

This was the best single-player, story-driven experience I've had since Myst/Riven, or Longest Journey, or maybe the original C&C (remember Seth?).  I loved it, and spent a while trying to get all sorts of achievements.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer was almost nothing like the single player (and, in fact, there wasn't even much unit overlap between single player terran and multiplayer terran).  I got bored of that pretty quickly.  For multiplayer RTSs, I really prefer grand scope games.  Total Annihilation, DEFCON, and to a lesser extent Supreme Commander (which was grand in scope but somehow just failed to have much of a soul).

Where does that leave us?

Well, I'm looking forwards to the rest of the Starcraft II games, Diablo 3, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and to a lesser extent Deus Ex 3 and the redo of Hellgate.  Also, if Dust or that World of Darkness MMO ever actually come out, I really want to give them a whirl.  And maybe I should try Witcher 2...can't decide.

Other than that...anyone wanna put an Indie MMO team together and shake things up?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I hold in my hands...

an actual, physical box of Starcraft II.

And the peasants...err..SCVs...rejoiced.

Seriously, I thought it was vaporware 3 years ago.  I thought it was vaporware when I pre-ordered it.  I thought it was vaporware when they claimed to have shipped the bloody thing.  And, frankly, I'm still fairly convinced it will end up being an empty box when I open it tonight.

Here's hoping the humans lose at the end of their campaign.  Scorched from the skies...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cataclysm Beta: Why no faction bosses?

Cataclysm is supposed to be all about ripping things asunder.  The world destroyed by Deathwing's emergence and the tentative truce between Horde and Alliance rent beyond repair.  Indeed, many of the major faction cities will be significantly tougher nuts to crack, with new walls, new guards, and leaders placed in more defensible positions (I always did wonder why Thrall stood so far away from his potential defenders in the auction house).

However, their ability sets are still fairly boring, and there are still no serious in-game rewards for killing them.  Given that the storyline now gives players ample reason to go after them (we're at war again, after all), this strikes me as a little inconsistent and a little sad.  I realize that Blizzard doesn't want world pvp in the cities to be so prevalent as to make them unwieldy, especially for low level players, but a long respawn timer could fix this (quests would need to be turned in to a regent in the meantime).

Spontaneous, open-world pvp, if properly controlled, is one of the things that makes the game fun and unpredictable, and gives it some legs.  So long as low level players are still immune in their capital cities (unless they attack first) and so long as quest givers can't be killed (or at least respawn quickly and/or have an alternative, like a regent), the only real problem is a little more lag.  And frankly, I don't think a little additional lag would be noticed in Stormwind or Orgrimmar.

C'mon, Blizz, give us all a reason to subscribe to the global defense channel again!

Cataclysm Beta: Starsurge Graphic

One more comment.  Hopefully the starsurge graphic in the beta now is a place holder.  If it is not, I would strongly encourage Blizzard to create another graphic for it.  (this has been noted on the beta forums, but there hasn't been an official response)

The current graphic is a noxious large glowing green ball.  It's look like sickly swamp gas meandering towards its target, and would be far more appropriate for a warlock (or a truly demented mage) than a druid.  Yes, Wrath is green, but wrath is a deep, natural green.  Starsurge is currently a sickly, corrupted green.  Further, starsurge suggests that it would have some blue or white in it, something along the lines of the colors in starfire, starfall, or moonfire.  Maybe two intertwined beams (ah...double helix!), one the color of wrath and one the color of starfire.  It is not, after all, supposed to be a pure nature or pure arcane spell.

Cataclysm Beta: First experience with Hyjal leveling zone

I should preface this by saying I've only spent about 2 hours in the zone all told, and that druids are fairly broken in the most recent two beta versions, so my experience should be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, I was able to proceed without difficulty most of the time.  Unlike in much of the old world, I did not encounter instances of randomly getting shifted out of flying form and falling to my death.  Which is too bad, really, as it added a bit of excitement and adventure to my explorations in the Eastern Kingdoms...

The graphics in Hyjal are amazing.  I can literally hear my graphics card chug into high gear (well, I can hear the fan, at any rate) when I fly in under Nordrassil.  This beauty may be difficult to appreciate with lower spec hardware.  The sky is also a work of art (literally) and probably my favorite of any zone so far.

The epic quality of the zone is bolstered primarily by the fact that many of the quest givers and other NPC characters are Big Important People from vanilla who we only got to see back then, if at all, in raids or in the Shifting Sands quest chain.  This includes the villains.  It's pretty fun to run into old raid bosses wreaking havoc out in the world.  There is also a battle going on between the Cenarion Circle (or associated forces....they are a new faction) and the twilight cultists/fire elementals.  It's not quite as intense as the opening siege for those who first stepped into Northrend as hordies in the Tundra, but it's not bad.  It's also a bit more dynamic than the standard "there are some bad guys and some good guards fighting."  There are some bigger characters and druidic types that react to some of the Big Bad Lieutenant abilities, and if you don't follow their lead, it's pretty easy to find yourself extra crispy.

The epic feeling is brought down a bit by the lack of content (at least, I hope it will be filled in before release) in some of the twilight camps.  Some of them have no cultists at all....just a few empty wagons.  Which is weird, especially when your quest is to destroy the camp.

Some of the initial quest lines also remind me of one of my favorite zones in Northrend - Zul'Drak.  Like the quests sending you to each temple to discover the current status of its god and then handle the fall out appropriately (which was great because it gave you an overarching plot line with a bit of tension and excitement, but still mixed it up and had you do something different for each god), you are sent to the shrines of four different ancients (actually, Ancients with a 'A'...not just the big trees, these guys are the remnants of the great spirits of nature that fought and fell in the War of the Ancients) to try and help bring their powers forth to drive the cultists back from Nordrassil.

So far, the zone is beautiful and has a nice epic feel, and most of the quests are even completable (added bonus!).  We'll see how it goes from here....it's a big zone.