Piloting, from hercs to mechs.

Piloting, from hercs to mechs.
A running recap of what I'm doing for fun, between active duty flying, technology, gadgets, and some of my favorite games.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Itemization for priests in cata...crit?

A guildie comment sparked some curiosity in my mind. I saw a 359 staff with stam, int, spirit, and crit...and thought that it looked good to me. He said that crit had no place in healer gear. I pointed out that the compendiums indicated otherwise, but he held that no healers chose crit over any other caster-related stats. I suppose he is correct, but it got me thinking about what would be best for a player in my circumstances.

In the holy tree, inspiration adds survivability to tanks. This is entirely crit based. In the disc tree, crits proc additional bubbles, which I estimate are almost always effective healing. But the bigger picture here is really whether or not crit is useful in the long run. I have to say that personally, crits are responsible for many of the good saves, and have prevented many wipes under my current circumstances.

Here is an example: with about 2000ms latency, if a tank gets below 50%, he is immediately a priority one heal target. This is because greater heal has a long cast time and penance doesn’t heal for quite enough. Shield is probably already on cooldown, because I use PW:S on 5-man tanks on cd anyways. PoM is a good choice, but it will only heal for so much and that takes up a global cooldown. An inner focus greater heal is simply my best option for saving a tank where a lot of damage is coming in. For instance, a 5 pack pull of heroic trash with no CC, or a boss that is putting some hurt on a tank. And, of course, the all too common “5 second bandwidth choke” that practically puts your game on pause. When that happens, you better be queuing your ultimate lifesaving spell, because when your internet catches up to real-time, your tank will simply not be where he was. And at that point, you’re crossing your fingers for a crit to buy you even more time as you catch back up.

The other option, as infeasible as it was with brand new gear at level 85, is a flash heal triple cocktail. If your latency is low but your bandwidth chokes periodically, this is an outstanding way to save a single player. It is a ton of mana, but it will top him off and put him back on the bottom of your healing priority. With crit, though, the game changes some for me. First of all, I love the feeling of critting a greater heal for 60k and watching the bar fill up completely.

Here’s the deal. DPS players love crit, because any extra damage caters to their final goal of higher damage throughput. They get the gratification, from level 1 to 85, of seeing large numbers that mean they just owned something or someone. This is one of the simplest game dynamics that makes it a blast to play a mage or a rogue, or a warrior, or a DK, or a shammy...well, pretty much any DPS class. Healers will whittle their way to a new level cap if they quest, or they’ll spec for DPS and enjoy it for a little while. Perhaps you’ll have a viable shadow set alongside your healing set, but I typically did not when I was raiding at the highest levels, because I spent DKP on healing items. As far as I’m concerned, healing is what I enjoy and why I play a priest. I am gratified by the knowledge that I singlehandedly support a group and allow them to succeed at some kind of team goal.

BUT...just because I’m healing doesn’t mean that I don’t also want to see those numbers flickering on my screen that say, “You just owned at what you do.” I intensely dislike sliding by in any fight or encounter. If I’m oom and everybody ends up with 80% or more health, I feel awesome. If I’m full blue and everybody is nearly dead, well that means my connection sucks. (If you are full blue and everybody is nearly dead, that means your connection sucks or YOU suck, btw.) Crit allows me to enjoy a role that is in high demand. And, as far as I’m concerned, if I’m doing my job and you aren’t dead, let me have my crit. If I’ve got the spirit to maintain my casting rotation and I want to pommel some tank with flash heals because it’s fun and it’s a normal instance...I’m enjoying the same kind of thing that a mage enjoys when he’s popping his cooldowns and nuking a boss. When you’re squeezing every bit of mana out of your gear that you can, I suppose there really is a smaller role for crit, but I’d like to see a breakdown of inspiration and the damage reduction, as well as the AOE healing average gains from crit. I am not convinced that it is irrelevant. There aren’t enough talents that support a hands-down crit build, but I have a hunch that it is still worth keeping an eye on, especially at the higher levels of gear. Crit will perform independently of the global cooldown, and it will apply to nearly every spell, and every individual heal of a prayer of healing/mending/circle of healing/10 minute AOE. Add both heals in binding heal to that list, on top of every other single target heal on my bar.

Anyways, impressive screenshots and videos will visually lean toward crit for any class, because it is simply bigger and bolder and more fun to see. I’m a healer, and I like having fun too, not just being the robot that sits in the background while everyone else gets credit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mouseover and healing....a new paradigm!

On a rare occasion, I get a good enough connection to play a few heroics on Smoogee. Today, that happened to be in the laundry building, of all places!

Since I’ve been relearning the priest class in general, I decided I would also start paying attention to the methods good healers are using now. In the original WoW, I never even experimented with mouseover macros…I’m honestly not sure that function was built into the game. But now, I have to say…


Does it make much of a difference on an extremely laggy connection…no…because in that situation you have all day to select a spell and a target anyways. However, a slow connection IS a wonderful way to practice new procedures.

A good parallel is this: if you come back to an airframe after having flown something different or sat at a desk for a long time, the AF will typically send you through training. This is an opportunity to re-familiarize yourself with the aircraft or learn a new one altogether. The best pilots keep their good habits, but intentionally learn new systems and develop new “flows” to be proficient at their new job. For instance, I have 3 qualifications currently: E model, H1 model, and H3 model C-130s. To some extent for each of those, I had to learn or relearn procedures such as checklists, emergency procedures, boldface, and even instrument crosscheck. Healing is a lot like that, with every new class or major expansion patch change. Our dynamics changed so much, so why not our approach to healing in general?

Here are some examples of mouseover macros that are working in 4.0.6

  • /stopcasting
  • /cast [target=mouseover,help,nodead] Pain Suppression
  • /stopcasting
  • /cast Chakra
  • /cast [target=mouseover,help,nodead] Prayer of Mending]
  • /cast Chakra
  • /cast Inner Focus
  • /cast [target=mouseover,exists] Greater Heal
  • /cast [target=mouseover,exists] Circle of Healing


The point is, I have Vudho set up with my party bars to the right of my character, and whichever I mouseover is the one that my healing spell will cast on. You might not think this makes much of a difference, but my hunch is that it increases my spell throughput by about 20%! That is a HUGE difference over what I did for over 5 years.

The days of selecting a target and then casting are OVER.

The only drawback is when you are in a situation that requires a lot of movement and you are the kind of person that relies on right mouse for dynamic movement. I have no answer to that, except to say that EVERY single fight has the built-in requirement that at some point you have time to stop and heal. In every single normal and heroic instance I’ve healed, the benefits of mouseover are greater than those of my previous method.

I have held on to good habits of selecting appropriate heals, using my cooldowns often (even on trash), prioritizing healing needs, and positioning tactically. I just added a new technique, which is actually almost instantly procedure once you start. I no longer pay much attention to a target or player frame, because those are included in the 5 party bars. This, of course, would change in a raid healing situation, but the potential for target locking is so great here and I can’t wait to try it out.

Btw, you can also mouseover an actual player and get the same result, which would have made me a healing GOD during the old C’Thun fights where you are dynamic in your positioning around a very large room.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Congrats Sad Panda...and cataclysm discussion continues.

As I have not kept up this blog until today, I have a lot of input. But before I get back into game mechanics, I want to give a huge shout out to my guild of many years, Sad Panda. I was online the other day when they accomplished First Level 25 Guild on Smolderthorn.

I’m honored they let me stay in as a legacy member, despite my raiding and instance inabilities. These guys have stayed competitive for years in WoW. Originally a guild called Entropy, which cleared up to BWL, we merged with another guild and became Epic. Some of the old faces are still around, such as Daedal, Bugs, and maybe even Fuse. After Epic, many left and formed a rival guild called Gloryhogs before BC released. Epic shifted to what was then an alt guild called “Sad Panda,” and Fuse led that guild for years. I know others have had some great input there, including my friends Jason and Josh, as well as Kkyle and Jessica, and now a new cadre of apparently very capable guild and raid leaders and raiders. The core competencies are still evident to me, and there are a lot of high level, hilarious, experienced players in SP…congrats on a great achievement!

On to the discussion on latency and its adverse effect on both disc and holy priest specs.

For holy, your rotation now involves heal, greater heal, binding heal, prayer of mending, circle of healing, chakra states, and prayer of healing for the most part. I rarely found myself using my old staple, flash heal. High latency hurts casters big time…especially healers, and especially priests. Refer to my previous notes on queuing spells, because you’re going to need to do that on a bad connection. First, you will notice very quickly in cata that mana is an issue when you have crappy gear. Also, latency means your throughput is even less. So, I recommend using your big spells and staying away from heal simply because it loses its value if you can’t cast it quickly. Your tank will be dead if you are on a 2000ms connection spamming heal, most likely. One good dynamic, though, is that you will find yourself in the 5 second rule for mana regen more often, by nature of not being able to cast as much. I found that I was less likely to run out of mana than wipe the party, so I had to lean towards larger, more expensive heals and just pay the price of drinking after nearly every pull if necessary. Also, I leaned very heavily on the AoE version of chakra, because of its “fire and forget” nature, along with the unconventional renews. I also glyphed for prayer of healing and used prayer of mending on cooldown EVERY time, because those spells would continue to be productive when my connection choked for a few seconds at a time, which happened frequently. Ultimately, it looked to my party like this: PoH procs HoT from glyph, renews on people that have taken any dmg, PoM on tank, chakra AoE around tank, and “why is that priest just standing there waiting now” followed by a binding heal or flash heal.

For disc, PW:S is a required pre-cast, as well as PoM on cooldown. I use PI and Inner Focus on cooldown…IF is even macrod in every gheal cast. If it’s available, I’m using it. I use PW:Barrier and Pain Suppression on cooldown too. Then I’ll Q up a penance first, gheal second. I have an A/A spec, so if the connection is decent or the damage distribution is steady and not too much, I LOVE smiting for automatic healing distribution around the party. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to do that on trash if you have high latency and the mobs are dying relatively quickly. Your throughput will go to zero. I typically use it for big mobs and bosses where damage is manageable.

One important lesson learned this deployment: do not sit in an instance and wipe a party because of bad lag. You’ll end up just getting vote kicked anyways, and you will have wasted time queuing. Know what your playability limit is…mine is about 2500ms. Anything higher than that, or if I’m experiencing frequent bandwidth lag (game seems to pause and then catch up real fast a few seconds later), I will heal through a pull then leave the party when they are safe. That’s right, I don’t even try to finish. It’s more productive to do some of the options I’m about to discuss. Unfortunately, that means I’m not able to do a lot of instances right now.

So what DO I do?

I find other ways to support and develop my character or cater to my end goals in the game. I always play every game with a goal in mind. For instance, in Black Ops, my goal was to hit level 50 so that I could unlock all the weapons. In WoW, there are so many different things you can shoot for. For me, it is to create the ultimate healer that is asked for when any tough healing situation arises. To be competitive at the highest levels of PvE as a priest healer. What caters to my goal? Anything that adds value to my main. Gold, mats, crafted items, professions, instance experience, UI improvements, and networking.

So, here are options I have been exploring and enjoying in cataclysm when I’m not able to heal instances as I would prefer.

  • I started a DK at lvl 55 and leveled the toon with herbalism and mining. (I have played my priest almost exclusively since WoW released...I originally shunned the idea of serious alts, but I was missing out) Taurens get fast herbalism gathering, and pale rider in the frost tree means I can fly faster on my 150% speed flying mount.
  • Gathering is considerably easier and faster now that you can fly, and those mats are lucrative. The lower level mats have earned me about 2000g so far, which is really a small amount in cataclysm. However, Kyle Rudd has informed me that flask sales on the AH are guaranteed to bring in thousands with good frequency.
  • I plan to have my alt gathering herbs and Smoogee already has almost maxed out alchemy. I estimate I'll be bringing in about 10k per week once I have that system running.
  • The leveling process is fun and new, and along the way I am auctioning nearly everything I can. I anticipate that my DK will have earned about 20k+ gold by the time it is 85. And THAT could be an ilvl 359 BoE healing Staff of Dark Mending, or Vial of the Sands, or something I really want. Also, I plan to purchase some heirloom items for my DK if the timing works out with justice points…may or may not happen. Gold opens up a ton of options for anybody’s main.
  • I am leveling my alchemy and enchanting, and neither of those will be cheap. I’m already at a high level, and I have my rings enchanted and the alchemy trinket. Oh, by the way, pots help a ton for priests.
  • Networking is the last thing I’ve started getting back into. Rebuilding my friend list with current players who I can go to for parties, help, professions, or even information. Remember when WoW first started? I still have connections from the version 1.0 days, and it makes a lot of sense to intentionally redevelop that habit pattern. That way, when I can play at higher performance levels, I’ll have relevant connections on my server. (The new “add a note” feature is awesome, as well as the RealID system)

Cataclysm...2500ms style

I'm sitting here on my new 2011 macbook pro using bootcamp for Windows, in a place called the USO (an organization that does things for our troops). They have free (slow) wifi, WoW works to some degree, and I have made some progress while I've been out here.
Kyle Rudd, a friend who has played with me since beta, encouraged me to continue the blog, and the timing is perfect for that. Today I'll cover:
  • Options for high latency OR low bandwidth connections in general
  • "GCDA" or Global Cooldown Availability
  • Applications for tunneling that will work with WoW on either Mac or Windows
  • The effects of bandwidth/latency problems on disc and holy specs
  • Gameplay suggestions for instance play as a priest in poor network situations
  • WoW suggestions in general for consistently crappy internet situations
  • Cataclysm options for someone in my situation
  • Mouseover, the new standard for healing in WoW
I'll start by saying that I did buy that directional antenna, and it is fully functional. That means that I have a consistent internet connection in my room here in Iraq. It does NOT provide any noticeable performance increase over my old omni-directional antenna, only a more stable connection to the routers. While the latency fluctuates between 700ms and 10,000ms in game, the bandwidth is so restricted that instance play of any type is impossible under ANY circumstances. My connection provides 20Kbps during the best performance hours, and less during peak usage hours. So, like last year, in order to get some JP and start the gearing process, I still have to find external sources. However, I'll talk about what I have been able to do with that connection.

Options for extremely high latency or very low bandwidth connections in WoW.
Under the worst conditions, understand that your gameplay changes dramatically. You need to familiarize yourself with the concept of queuing your spells and building specs that improve general survivability. Here's my first example: I rolled a DK alt (more on that in a moment), and using a frost spec, I will Q up an obliterate and half the time Killing Machine will proc in the 2-3 seconds it takes for my command to reach the servers, process, and get back to me. Using this strategy of ability selection, I can actually anticipate events and speed up the grinding process. As a priest, this is even more difficult, and I HIGHLY recommend speccing for HoTs and DoTs. Hunters and warlocks, by my estimation, are probably the very best classes for high latency connections, because you can "fire and forget" and much of the work will continue to be done while your computer waits for the server to fill you in on what's happening.

Global cooldown and you...most of our overseas users already know this...
The global cooldown is a limiting factor for all competitive players on good connections...in PVP especially, but also in raid healing situations as both disc and holy (especially disc). It is the rate at which you can cast spells one after another. On a poor connection, though, your GCD changes completely, no longer limited by your character, haste, and that little circle thing on your boxes that goes clockwise to tell you that you can cast again. On a poor connection, you are guaranteed that you will never run up against the GCD again, rather you are just waiting for your GCD to even become available! Instead, you have to wait for the server to see that you casted and to be able to process your next request.
Example: you cast PW:Shield on someone and choose Prayer of Mending as your next spell. When you activate PW:S, that icon will highlight until the server sees that you casted it, and by the time it goes grey (indicating a successful cast), it's guaranteed to already be past the GCD timer (approx 1 second).
What you MUST do on a poor connection is queue up your next spell, but sometimes not immediately. You can't spam every spell on your bars and expect the server to cast them in order...otherwise we'd do this with good connections. However, you can spoof the connection by simulating a GCD before selecting your next spell. Aside from abilities that do not trigger the GCD (trinks, Power Infusion, Archangel, chakra), you can only select one spell in sequence. I HIGHLY recommend using your non-GCD abilities EVERY time they're available and activating them during that anticipated cast, before your queued ability. In this example, I'd cast PW:S, then immediately select archangel or PI, then select greater heal. Shield would cast, there would be a standard delay, depending on your connection, then the server would activate your PI and cast gheal once it caught up. (For my DK, I often Q up non-GCD abilities during that in-between "lag void.")

Tunneling WoW...a month of research and effort to save YOU some time.
USE LEATRIX LATENCY FIX...first step on any network, windows OR mac.
Learn how to ipconfig /release /renew /flushdns if you are on a wifi network that drops you frequently or seems to slow over time...this actually helps me on the connection in my room (Babtel....boooooo....hisssssss).
It is entirely possible to tunnel to log on, but not easy to describe. I began experimenting with the Tor network, as well as Your-Freedom, PuTTy with SSH to a shell server, and eventually settled on HighPingBuster.
  • Tor: is SLOW, due to the p2p nature. It is not ideal for any games, although it can be used to get things like Steam online, or for downloading patches. Tunneling WoW through Freecap is one option, and if you can get the Tor network online, you should be able to get the downloader working through Freecap. Word to the wise: Widecap is best for this, because you can set profiles and capture the "extra" exe's that are running, such as Blizzard downloader. In my opinion, the Tor network will really frustrate you. However, using Tor with Firefox is an outstanding way to access sites such as HBP or Your-Freedom in a lockdown situation such as mine. Those sites are normally blocked, but Tor allowed me to get the files downloaded to use later.
  • Your-Freedom: this is a better platform for tunneling, and it's free. If you have a poor connection, chances are you'll never exceed the bandwidth or streams allotted. Similarly, programs like Pcap are not bad utilities to actually tunnel your specific programs (just throwing out different ideas, I've tried them all and each requires tutorials). I used google to research the configuration for both WoW and Steam.
  • I tinkered with PuTTy and buying my own Linux shell. The company I chose never configured the shell server, but I think this is a VERY strong option...read on.
  • HighPingBuster is a pre-configured tunnel program specifically designed for WoW and other online games like Rift. It actually uses an embedded PuTTy program and they have a pre-loaded list of shell servers around the world to choose from. I love how they let you ping the servers through their app. It is extremely simple to set up, and it's only like $6 a month. This is a great option for connecting to WoW on a network that blocks WoW! It does not, however, help much with our crappy satellite connection. I thought I noticed a slight reduction in ping, but I honestly think it's about the same as without...but it always allows me to log in. NOTE: if you have connection issues with HPB and it was just working earlier, quickly uninstall and reinstall...that has helped me three times so far.
I'll cover the rest of the topics in my next post, because I actually want to log in and play right now, and a seat just freed up where nobody can see my screen (not supposed to online game on this network and military guys talk so much crap when they see people playing games). More to come, hope this helps...email me with any specific questions if you're in a situation like mine.