Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Working on rotations

With the Razer Naga, I've already added several spells into the PvE rotation, though I haven't done any of the requisite mathes. Solar Beam-ing a spell casting mob, causing them to charge you, followed by a Typhoon, is a fun way to aggravate mobs and keep damage down. But I Googled around a bit to see if anyone has The Right Way to rotate these spells I've now got at my thumb-tip.

Elitist Jerks seemed to have the best guide:

This is a compendium of information on raiding as a Balance Druid. It contains everything a beginner needs to achieve basic competence at raid DPS, as well more detailed discussion for people more interested in understanding the theory or more advanced play. The article is supplemented by the attached spreadsheet.

I haven't mathed up Starsurge, but I think it's to your advantage to cast even in the midst of an eclipse, something Jerks seems to agree with, though it's written just ambiguously enough I won't swear to it.

Casting Starfall during Lunar isn't something I'd considered closely enough. Good point.

EDIT: For some reason, I conflated Thorns and Roots, below. Honestly, I've completely forgotten about Thorns. In the Recruit-a-friend, I'm playing with a druid who is Thorning, and I caught the mistake. I should throw it onto the Naga rotation.

I may be underutilizing Thorns, which, since it doesn't set up melee mobs for Wrath-spams any more, has fallen off of my rotation in PvE almost entirely. Jerks suggests it does enough dps to keep it up. From outdoor only to ubiquitous use to nothing, it's been a real pain to keep up with Thorns. I'm also likely underusing Insect Swarm. I only use it and Faerie Fire for long fights in instances, though Jerks would have me believe that I should keep IS and scrap FF almost entirely -- "Faerie Fire: We no longer need to use this unless the raid is missing an Armor debuff." /shrug

Honestly, though, this is the sort of stuff that kills the enjoyment for part-timers like me, yet I'm just math-inclined enough (and efficiency worried) that I keep getting drawn back in. There's probably also a small tinge of worry that a PUG might get upset that I'm not using my skillz The Right Way. I don't know why. I've never been called out for not putting out enough dps.

And, honestly, for PvE, the fights are too short for maxing DPS and Innverate too good at keeping you at max mana for much to matter, afaict. Fire and forget.

In any event, Jerks' is a good guide, and the Naga really does change the way I play.

Monday, December 27, 2010

MMO-Champion BlueTracker

MMO-Champion BlueTracker:
Blue Poster
#3 - 2010/12/10 12:57:16 AM
12/09/2010 4:53 PMPosted by Bucktown

Why am I being treated as though i'm less of a customer than anyone else?

It isn't that, Bucktown. It is priority in queue is given to full accounts before ones listed as trials. Now I understand that you recently upgraded online but unfortunately you may have missed the warnings that trial restrictions may remain for approximately 72 hours while the purchase is processed.

The leveling restrictions are lifted immediately, unfortunately due to possible fraudulent purchases those other restrictions are not removed until the purchase is finalized. I am very sorry for what frustration this may cause, hopefully your purchase will process sooner rather than later.

/le sigh

I wish somebody had let us know about these trial account limitations mas sooner. There's nothing quite like watching yourself get within 40 waiting in the queue just to watch it pop back up to 80. We're about an hour in, and back to 74.

Recruit-a-friend, but don't expect to play unless it's down time! Too bad I decided it'd be better to stick with Proudmoore so that I could load up a twink.

Ding! 82

Requisite /played output:

Quick notes:
I've spent too much time going back and forth between Hyjal and Vashj'ir trying to decide where to level. Waaaay too much time. I like the story in Hyjal better, but thought I enjoyed the visuals with Vashj'ir. But after the quest line named after Stones songs (and perhaps they're covers of someone else? -- and note that I love the Stones; it's just the lack of imagination), I finally quit Vashj'ir and decided I'd run Hyjal to its finish. The seahorse combined with the stupid air cave and tired quests was too much.

A MacBook 2.26 GHz is approximately equal in hardware performance as my new tower with the old GeForce 8500 GT.

/timetest from SW to IF on Fair with the tower gave me:
Low: 7.1652
Max: 477.241
Avg: 47.169

with High:
Low: 2.438
Max: 210.373
Avg: 18.675

I'll post MacBook numbers later, but for now it's hosting the trial account for Recruit a Friend. Not sure if that'd be apples to apples.

Right now, I'm gaming with Fair settings on the tower with draw distance (the only thing that really affects gameplay -- Can I see the mobs/sparkly collectable?) set to Ultra. I think that's a fair enough compromise. Man, I'm tired of seeing GeForce GTS 450 give-aways on WoW Insider. I want a better card.

Ah yes, two links to share on the hardware front.
  1. Great review of all cards at each price "point" (I hate that term, price point. I understand it, but isn't "point" enough for casual use?)
  2. Great guest post on WoW Insider talking about upgrading your box to get ready to play. Heck, it even covers if your computer is stuck on AGP.
  3. Compare that super-useful post to this commercial for Nvidia masquerading as a hardware post at WoW Insider. ;^)

If I was buying today, I think I'm down to either the...
MSI R5770 Hawk Radeon HD 5770 1GB ($150 after rebate)
or the...
MSI N460GTX CYCLONE 1GD5/OC GeForce GTX 460 (Fermi) 1GB for $210

... depending on how serious I want to get about graphics. Honestly, the 5770 feels a little like a tide-me-over card, so I think I'll keep using my 8500 GT until I puke and then hit the GTX 460 (or whatever's the best deal with those specs when I finally give in). Still, $50 is a lot of Steam games on sale!

Back to notes:

Recruit-a-Friend levels you much too quickly. It's also crappy if you immediately quest together. The intro-to-your-class quests in Shadowglen, at least, cannot be accessed by a non-elf. I tried making a warrior gnome, thinking I would have access to the elven warrior trainer quests. No luck. You get two early, then no more quests until you take the road south out of Shadowglen, leaving the elf at level 7 and me at 5. Stuff's picked back up now that we're out of Shadowglen, though. Minor complaint.

Also annoyed with the inability to trade with a trial account. I completely understand why, but we've got one well geared twink with as much gold as she can carry and one poor gnome sap who barely has cash to train, much less overgear himself. Would it really have killed Blizzard to allow you to carry, oh, 20s from some benefactor, with your trial? We're already leveling like it's going out of style. I don't know that a few pieces of level-appropriate gear would be a serious issue.

I think that's about it. I feel like I'm leveling too quickly in Cat as well. I haven't had much time to play, especially with the new recruit a friend diversion, but when I do, I'm leveling pretty quickly, especially considering that I'm still running dailies and taking time to run /timetest, etc.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

New integrated vs. old discrete video cards

I've recently been playing WoW on my MacBook, which does fine (ob a huge step up over my iBook G4 from a few years back!), but not great. That MacBook also had a copy of Vista Ultimate on it that I'd been using with Boot Camp. I'd put away my dedicated Windows tower to save space during a move, and hadn't pulled it back out.

Enter Anandtech's System Buyers' Guide last month. I've built three systems now, and none of them involved me really canvasing every mobo out there. I usually rely on a combo of Anandtech, friends' input, and Newegg reviews. This time, though I have an older discrete video card (MSI's overclocked GeForce 8500 GT with 256MB of VRAM), I went ahead and got the budget board Anandtech recommended, which comes with ATI Radeon HD 4250 integrated video. I also bought the AMD Athlon II X4 640 Propus 3.0GHz they suggested and upgraded the Crucial RAM they had listed to something that looked like it was legitimately paired for dual channel use. The rest (case, power supply, hard drive, optical drive, and, of course, Vista) is all recycled from my last box.

Old as the hills card

I was suspicious that I'd wasted $10-15 on integrated video, but figured it was worth $10 of my time to go with Anand after I tried to find another board that was cheaper without. Nothing without integrated video in this price range absolutely jumped out at me from Asus or Gigabyte, which were the two brands that seemed to have the best reviews, or MSI, which I've used in a previous build and was suggested here by Anand. There was one with two PCI-E slots for SLI, but it had some northbridge compromises that seemed questionable, and the chances that I buy two video cards down the road is pretty slim. Chalk up the extra cash to not knowing enough about mobos, I figured, and got Anand's suggested budget MSI board.

But after playing with the new mobo and old card a while -- I finally finished up GTA:SA and messed around with GTA:IV some more -- I started wondering how today's integrated video matches up with three and a half year-old budget gaming discrete cards.

So here are the results. With Doom 3 with randomly selected video settings I felt were best, the 4250 integrated chip gave me 17.5 fps. With the 8500 GT, I got 139.4. I must have pooched some display setting, as I did edit the config file by hand to get widescreen on my monitor, but you get the idea (and I didn't feel like pulling the GT again). The 8500 killed the 4250. In GTA:IV's benchmark test, I got the following.

Integrated 4250Discrete 8500 GT
Average FPS: 14.71
Duration: 37.52 sec
CPU Usage: 40%
System memory usage: 56%
Video memory usage: 96%

Graphics Settings
Video Mode: 800 x 600 (56 Hz)
Texture Quality: Low
Shadow Quality: Low
Reflection Resolution: Low
Water Quality: Low
Texture Filter Quality:
Anisotropic x2
Night Shadows: Off
View Distance: 10
Detail Distance: 10

Microsoft® Windows Vista" Ultimate
Service Pack 1
Video Adapter: ATI Radeon HD 4250
Video Driver version:
Audio Adapter: Speakers
(High Definition Audio Device)
AMD Athlon(tm) II X4 640 Processor

File ID: Benchmark.cli
Average FPS: 30.42
Duration: 37.02 sec
CPU Usage: 77%
System memory usage: 58%
Video memory usage: 97%

Graphics Settings
Video Mode: 800 x 600 (56 Hz)
Texture Quality: Low
Shadow Quality: Low
Reflection Resolution: Low
Water Quality: Low
Texture Filter Quality:
Anisotropic x2
Night Shadows: Off
View Distance: 10
Detail Distance: 10

Microsoft® Windows Vista" Ultimate
Service Pack 1
Video Adapter: NVIDIA GeForce 8500 GT
Video Driver version: 260.99
Audio Adapter: Speakers
(High Definition Audio Device)
AMD Athlon(tm) II X4 640 Processor

File ID: Benchmark.cli

That seems pretty telling. Though the GT seems to be plenty for Doom 3, it's pushing it in GTA:IV. To play with eye candy, I need a new video card. With the integrated video, though, I'm barely playing at all and the processor is downright bored -- 40% of the processor has anything to do. With the 8500, the processor's at least working a little at 77%. Once again, the GT is doing loads better than the new integrated chip.

I'll give WoW a shot tonight when I reactivate. Cat seems to be just enough of a push that it might give the 8500 a quick test. The GT looked great in Nagrand when I first bought it, but I didn't play much with it in WotLK, and basically stuck with the MacBook. I just hope I'm not dying for one of the $250 cards WoW Insider's giving away (a deal at $190 at Newegg right now though a reliable model will run you $210) once I do fire things back up.

Regardless, the real lesson is that hardware can make the game. For GTA:IV, the improvement is a clear one. GTA:SA looked great, but IV requires a multi-core processor, and these four cores plus the 8500 have proven a big step up over the MacBook (though I was too stupid to run a benchmark before blasting the Boot Camp partition). Here's to hoping I'm pleasantly surprised tonight.

And the secondary lesson is that integrated video still sux0rz. Almost anything discrete is a step up. If you're stuck on a box with integrated video, go to Newegg or, heck, eBay and grab whatever you want, and enjoy Azeroth anew.

And though I enjoy the relatively inexpensive nature of building, upgrading, and recycling towers, I did briefly consider Alienware's m11x during its Black Friday sale for $599. I think that version, however, had an even less powerful processor than the Core 2 Duo offered at $799 now, and I didn't bite in part because I already have a decently powered MacBook.

Regardless, the m11x has the NVIDIA 335M with a Gig of VRAM across the line. The size looks good and battery life for normal work, when you switch the 335M off, is pretty good. If I was considering a laptop purchase and played WoW, I would wait for the next hardware bump and then grab this laptop ASAP.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick hiatus to administer exams

Why, oh why does year-end grading torment me so?

Remind me never to give the class the option to turn in assignments "on your own schedule" at any point in the semester. They do not take advantage of the situation. Rather, they only take advantage of the situation. /sigh It's been a couple of fun days of grading. With an exam given today and another Thursday, Jal's going to have to wait.

Amazing how many WoW bloggers and players have some foot in academia. One of our most active guildies is an interim principal, and Spinks apparently is doing graduate work (Lissanna too?).

The good news is that I should have a AMD Athlon II X4 640 Propus 3.0GHz Quad-Core waiting on me once I'm done. The MacBook, he tries, but he's really not up to serious WOWing (says the guy who was playing on an iBook and Mac Mini G4 not two or three years ago). I've thought back to the times I've been really impressed with WoW's scenery, and they're when I played in Auberdine at a LAN bar nearly five years ago, another "bar" almost four years ago in Winterspring, and when I got a new computer and flew through Nagrand, what, a year and a half ago?

Hardware really makes the game.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Eclipse and reconfiguring action bars

As any astute/obsessive screenshot studier can tell, after years of 2 is Starfire, 3 is Wrath, 4 is Healing Touch, and 5 is Moonfire, I've finally given in and changed. I've slowly been moving stuff around, adding Starfall, Insect Swarm, and Forces of Nature to the main action bar, and occasionally now swapping Travel Form (great for PvE escapes) with Moonbeam or whatever it is that silences folk. The new Eclipse dynamic plus the addition of Hurricane, Innervate, and Moonbeam to my situational rotation finally required an Action Bar rethink.

The Main action bar now has Starsurge at 2. Though the mouseover doesn't say what the dmg is, it's a lot. I haven't bothered with mathes, but I use Starsurge whenever it hits cooldown. It's my lead pulling shot the way Starfire used to be. Starfire used to be the choice because it had greater range than Wrath and because its slow casting speed didn't matter for the first shot. Now Starsurge's cooldown plus insane damage says it's the new "2".

3 stays Wrath. I wish I could force Eclipse to start off going Lunar, as I still want to smash 3 after 2, but for me, Starsurge seems to always give me 15 towards Lunar the first time through. Perhaps I should swap Starfire and Wrath so that 3 is Starfire, but I also like knowing 3 represents Wrath's speed. Anyhow....

Note: Actually 3 and 5 are macros that proc my spellpower trinkets and then cast Wrath or Starfire. This is an absolute must, folks. Macro-ing trinkets is the easiest dps upgrade there is.

4 is now Moonfire, which throws me off a little. I accidentally hit 5 off and on for a few hours. The muscle memory is scary. But the move down makes it easier to think of [towards] Solar at 5, [towards] Lunar at 3, with both dancing around 4 as it fades.

5 is, duh, Starfire. I hate having three keys spent where I used to have two for the same purposes, but I'm getting used to it. It has pushed me to reconfigure more keys, however (see below).

I'm debating permanently swapping 8 from travel form to moonbeam (?), and have tried it out a few times, as silencing folk looks cool and has its practical side. I just use travel form so often -- running from the bank to AH, eg -- that it's hard to take off of the main bar.

Before now I, admittedly, moused everything else. I had a few more bars set up, like Shift-4 for when I needed to go healz for an extended period of time (see? Healing touch was 4 on my main bar, originally, and Shift-4 is a bar full o' healing), but I've broken down and set up my Num Pad for the left action bar above the main. It's mostly in order of the picture, above. Heals are 4-6 to keep with the 4 theme. 1-3 are aggressive. 0 is to pop Tranquility in a 5-man emergency, which happens more than I'd like. (Anyone notice that they were doing more off-healing right before Cat? I'm thinking lots of Priests were alts.) + is to take a healing pot.

I'm eying the Razer Naga to make this all even easier, moving those num pad selections to the right hand, keeping the movement, esp strafing, easier to reach with the left. I might eventually end up swapping the main action bar to the mouse instead. Can't tell what would be best.

So my only "heady" point here is to say to people who think real-world cash doesn't influence virtual world performance, even beyond the ability to buy the game and expansions, beyond buying net access, and beyond the computer's hardware so that you can see more than 14 fps, we can drill all the way down to a $70 mouse allowing you to access more spells quickly and efficiently. It's a one-dollar one-vote system for everything past Angband, I think.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ding! 81

Welp, even a part-timer levels up pretty quickly in Cat. I'm on 81, though I saw worgen druids at 81 before I dinged, which is just painful to think about. I've been running with Jal off and on since, what, March 2005? Sheesh. And somebody else had caught up with all I've done in about 32 hours. It's painful seeing how quickly your virtual work is made obsolete.

So far, the game is fine, but painfully more of the same as before. Kill X of Y then report back to (x,y). Read backstory if you really want, wash, rinse, repeat. Five years in, Blizzard could be figuring out better ways to tell stories. The full motion video (though rendered in-game) continues to be used a bit (see below), but overall the game mechanics simply haven't changed enough.

Now just as BC wowed me with its scenery, both Hyjal and Vashj'ir are visually impressive. I was planning on upgrading my PC's hardware to get a decent GTA IV experience already and look forward to seeing the improvement for WoW. I'm saving Vashj'ir until I have better gear before playing much more. That said, all the crabs sitting around have gotten me about 50 points of skinning in no time flat.

The new level feedback is both neat and n00bish.

Yes, I realize I have a new talent point. Yes, I know I should check a trainer for new skills. Got it. Still, it's an extra layer of professionalism that makes the game feel a little more polished, even if Cindermaul requires a logout, cache deletion, and restart to clear and going back to grab Finkle's Skinner causes a hard lock.

Sheesh, okay! I've still got 400 in front of me in Proudmoore. Sign off already! Good thing half the server lives in Aussieland -- or is it morning there already?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gear inflation. Goodbye purple, hello green.

It surprised me in BC, but by LK I'd gotten used to it. And it's happening again. All the virtual rewards from those hours you played are gone in just a few minutes playing Cat. My Blood Boil Lancet that I'd used as a near end-game weapon is gone. The Wrathful Gladiator's Cloak I picked up with honor points I didn't realize I had right before Cat went live is doomed. It's just a matter of time.

Spinks beat me to it a bit, but the green drops aren't always bad either:

One thing I have noticed though is that random green drops in Vash’jir look to be better quality than similar green quest rewards. (For example, I picked up a level 79 dagger with 963 spellpower on it – that’s a similar item level (283) to the caster drops from heroic 25 man Lich King. Level 79.)

I'm mostly running Hyjal, but it's true. I mentioned in April 2009 that I rarely find drops that instantly replace something I'm using (they usually go to the AH for me; Spinks say she automatically DEs), and have a green drop already in there from Cat.

I can't decide if Blizzard is virtually bribing us to buy or if this is actually a way LK-only players could be kept separate from Catters. I used to be sure it was the former, and now I'm not as sure. I'm confident more are interested in the first, though.

Anyhow, here are some pix of the greens with comparisons with my current gear that I either took or considered as quest rewards (or got as a drop) that have likely already hit the gear rotation. Admittedly, some of my gear is crud (this is when I remind you that I'm a "part-time" player), but it's interesting to see. You'll probably have to click them to read some, as Blogger will miniaturize the shots to fit. I mean, seriously, +260 spellpower out of the gate? Sheesh. I ran Heroic Azjol-Nerub while playing just for fun and, boy, I'm already nearly an end gamer for LK.

(Note: I didn't get them all. For whatever reason, taking a screenshot (there's no screenshot key on my MacBook's keyboard, and I haven't remapped for when I'm playing away from my KVM) only comes out about 40-50% of the time.)

Btw, don't forget to pay for Illustrious skinning (any skinning trainer, afaict), first aid, etc.

Has anyone else noticed the reroute landing page for the Armory is pretty facebooky now?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cataclysm Starts

Welp, I didn't make it out like I'd planned at midnight, but did log in quickly at 7am EST to see what's still a steady stream of folk taking off from Moonglade over to Mount Hyjal (I believe). And Blizzard wasn't lying. I can't fly in the old world, though it's neat seeing everybody who is.

People start riding Arorus around 0:40.

I wonder if anybody's level 85 yet. ;^)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cat -- Where do I start?

In the interest of serving part-timers like myself, who haven't beta'd or know where they're going on Tuesday...

First off, most say to buy Old World Flying from Bralla Cloudwing in Stormwind first. The comments there on WowHead suggest 250g is the gold sink.

You've then got two choices of where to start, apparently. First, it sounded like Vashj'ir would be an interesting place to start, as I ultimately enjoyed the Indian-themed demons from BC. But then it turns out the entire zone is under water and that you end up riding seahorses or something, nearly or more wack than the Draenai spaceship storyline I'm still essentially ignoring.

The other choice is Mount Hyjal, which is even better because you're apparently helping save Nordrassil, the other world tree.

The Mount Hyjal quest line is also easy to access. You click on one of the help wanted boards in SW or IF or Darn and are told to go all the way to Moonglade. That's tough for druids to pull off, right?

Mount Hyjal is one of the two 80-82 level-up zones in Cataclysm. Breadcrumbs come from Stormwind and Orgrimmar from the Hero's Call and Warchief's Command billboards, which send players to Moonglade. There, the breadcrumb As Hyjal Burns directs players to the zone, where the chain proper starts underneath Nordrassil, the world tree, with Inciting the Elements and The Earth Rises.

That should last us a while.