Kil’jaeden to 25%… Finally; Summer Woes for Everyone

My guild finally got Kil’jaeden to 25%, after a month and a half of frustration. We just missed the budget for phase five by a few seconds, so technically we didn’t get to phase five. However, I take heart in the fact that we had priest adds for phase four both times we came close to reaching the fifth phase last night. This means we would have met the budget with any other type of sinister reflections. Furthermore, reaching phase four is now a regular occurrence and failing to meet the DPS budget for phase three is a rarity. However, our issue now is survivability in phase four. Each time we reached close to 25% we had several people down. However, this does mean our DPS is on target provided people can improve their avoidance of armageddons and spreading bloom damage.

That said, I can’t say how absolutely frustrating I’ve found Kil’jaeden. And it extends beyond merely my frustration with the encounter itself. However, I suppose it’s best to begin there.

At times, it seems there’s almost nothing you can do to prevent a wipe to Kil’jaeden. To fully realize why would take a complete rundown of the fight and first-hand experience to understand its subtle complexities (note that WoWWiki’s article is not 100% complete and accurate, but it’s close). Even videos can’t really do its high degree of difficulty justice, because they nearly all show guilds killing him when either they get lucky or play the cooldowns masterfully. The best explanation perhaps starts with a statement Gurgthock made about the fight on EJ’s forums:

Kil’Jaeden can make Orbs after Darkness, you can have Bloom expire as you begin to collapse for Darkness and not be recast, you can have dragon orb activations on the near side with your raid, you can have all shaman/druid/rogue/etc. adds, and so forth.

Or he can make Orbs right before Darkness, put up fresh Blooms right as your raid begins to collapse for Darkness, orb activations on the opposite side, all priest/hunter/mage/etc. adds.

The latter “version” is insanely hard. The former isn’t too bad once you’ve got all the tactics down.

Frustrations of the Encounter Itself

There are many random factors to Kil’jaeden. Some require dynamic reactions on a raid-wide scale, while others just simply make the encounter more difficult to defeat.

Getting priest reflections is one example of a mechanic that simply increases the difficulty of any specific attempts where they occur. This is because they artificially increase the DPS budget you need to make by spamming renew on each other, as well as Kil’jaeden and the shield orbs. And because the renew is a percentage-based heal, Kil’jaeden can be healed for thousands if it’s not removed. What I find most frustrating is that you have extremely difficult reflections, and then laughably easy reflections like rogues.

As another example of something that is simply difficult to deal with, you can have shield orbs that can fire three shadow bolts within merely a second at the same person, hitting them for a good 3600 damage. And more than one shield orb can be up at a time in the later phases of the fight, so people take a huge amount of burst. This is countered by killing the orbs. However, if Kil’jaeden spawns the orbs right before a darkness, when everyone needs to collapse, the orbs aren’t going to die swiftly. And the damage they do is tacked onto other random damage that occurs during the fight. So it can be extremely difficult to keep everyone up in certain situations

Then there’s mechanics that require dynamic reactions from your entire raid. For example, you can only use your dragon’s breaths on people before the second shield, because the dragon dies immediately after the shield drops. So if you want to efficiently buff your raid with the haste and revitalize breaths, you have to collapse early. However, you have to watch the flame dart and fire bloom timers. If either have a chance to go up as you’re collapsing, it can kill people. So everyone has to watch these timers and make sure they don’t collapse too early, all while dealing with other mechanics of the fight (keeping people alive, killing shield orbs, DPSing Kil’jaeden, avoiding armageddons, killing sinister reflections, etc.).

So you can have one attempt where the random number generator decides you’re going to have easy conditions to handle, while the very next attempt you can have a situation that is near impossible to deal with. And this is to the point where some people in respected guilds have admitted that repeat kills of Kil’jaeden sometimes come easily or not at all.

You Can’t Nerf the Encounter Too Much

Despite my frustrations with Kil’jaeden, however, I don’t think he can be nerfed much without losing its high degree of difficulty. If they designed the encounter so you could collapse early for the second darkness every single time without worrying about darts or bloom, healing would be a breeze and you’d make the DPS budget too easily. If the shield orbs undergo heavy nerfing, one of the most difficult components of the encounter would be removed.

The only thing I think Blizzard can do is perhaps remove legion lightning. This would prevent those retarded occurrences where someone eats a few shadow bolts from a shield orb, gets hit with a couple fire blooms, and then takes damage from legion lightning immediately after the fire bloom goes up. It’s fun watching someone’s health go from full to 10 percent in less than a second when this happens. Really! It is!

Summer Woes and the Impending Expansion

To add to the frustrations caused by the encounter itself, you also have to consider the problems that have come with the general situation permeating the raiding community. Quite simply, if you don’t yet have Kil’jaedeon down, you’re not going to get a whole lot of applications. And this has actually been true even if you do have Kil’jaeden dead, because some people have decided to simply bide their time before Wrath of the Lich King hits the shelves. Another reason is that it’s summer, when many college students find jobs that temporarily keep them from raiding, when many business professionals decide it’s time to take a vacation and relax, and when many people decide to make shifts in their real life situations that can affect the amount of time they have to raid. And these lie on top of the usual guild issues. This is something Auzara has covered in one of her recent articles.

This is not an issue only the high end guilds must face, however. Siha from Banana Shoulders told me in a recent conversation with her that her guild, too, has been feeling the pinch. It has come to the point where I actually question the release cycle Blizzard has set up for us and if it would be in their best interests to purposefully schedule release dates with general player issues in mind. But it’s such a complex matter I don’t think I could even make a solid conclusion regarding it.

Obviously, the January release of The Burning Crusade was very lucrative for Blizzard. It sold 2.25 million copies in the first 24 hours, and led to 914,000 sales of the original game in that same time period. It’s difficult to say if Blizzard would have been as successful if the expansion had been release in May or June. It’s also difficult to say how such a delay would affect their operations. My gut tells me it would create too many problems, since they’d be starting design of a new expansion before the successes and pitfalls of the preceding expansion are revealed with a public release.

And for all of Blizzard’s ambitions to meet a yearly cycle with its expansions, we know now how far off they are in meeting that goal with Wrath of the Lich King. TBC was released in January of 2007. It’s now August of 2008, and Wrath is only in the early stages of beta. That means Blizzard is at least six months off its target. So I don’t think they could even plan a specific release date if they tried. Nor am I sure I’d want them to. I don’t think a year is enough time to develop a well-rounded expansion with refined visuals and gameplay, nor do I think it’s a good idea to rush a game’s polish to meet a specific release date.

Alas, however, I digress.

General Guild Woes

Recently I’ve had a couple recruits I simply don’t think will work out. We’ve also had a few people step down or take breaks for real life reasons, including: pursuing a relationship, getting married, school, work, and finances. On top of this, we’ve had one member who either ebayed his character or transferred without telling us. It’s almost amusing, because I was planning to ask him if he wanted to go to a concert, given our close proximity and similar taste in music.

For one of our recruits, he understandably reacted poorly to something said over vent by one of our members. It was something said I’m still disappointed with, as well. However, honestly, this recruit wouldn’t have made the cut anyway. His playing ability is simply lackluster.

Of further issue is the fact that only the Sunwell can really highlight many of a guild’s shortcomings. In doing all of this difficult content, I now know who’s being honest about their ability to raid and who’s just jerking us around, because the effects of their absences and problems are felt hard when I need to create a specific raid balance. I now also know who really does pay attention to instructions and what’s going on. And I also know now the strategic pitfalls of certain members in trying to explain what’s going on to those who can’t figure out subtle complexities. “The dragon dies right as the second shield expires,” is something that shouldn’t take twenty paragraphs and five attempts to explain clearly and concisely.

Hope and Perseverance

Despite such frustrations, however, I’m rather heartened by the progress we’ve made and the determination of some of our core raiders. We’ve endured through people leaving and pulling our tails to get this far. And if there’s anything that reaching 25% has taught me, it’s that perseverance can pay off. And with this I fully expect to kill Kil’jaeden.

However, I am honestly concerned about what will happen after he dies, as well as what might happen when we come to the point when classes start for our numerous college students. I hope we can continue to raid until we decide to scale back and farm gold or level any alts that might replace our main characters for the next expansion.

That said, we at least have a stronger core raid to build from when Wrath hits the shelves. Building a raid from scratch during TBC was extremely difficult, and not having any prior experience with many of our members means we are only now just discovering who really is a part of our core raid.

So here’s to the future!

Video Games As Art

My entry into this discussion comes two years after its height, but it is relevant as a precursor to an upcoming column I will be writing that addresses the presentation of storylines and plots within WoW. But in order to justify some of the statements I will be making throughout this upcoming column, I must state my case that video games can indeed be art.

Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control…. the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship [however elegant or sophisticated] to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers.

This was a statement made by Roger Ebert in response to a question asking him why he had been receptive of comic books and animation, but not video games. And though he acknowledges “a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience,” he still treats the medium with unwarranted disdain. To any video game buff who can appreciate a great storyline with insightful treatment of meaningful themes, it’s almost insulting to have this sort of argument presented by a well-respected critic of any field. And it’s certainly a setback for video games as a medium ever being treated with any sort of respect from critics in general. But as gamers, we should take heart in the fact that Ebert’s argument is a sinking ship.

Ebert assumes all video games require player choices, despite the fact that a large percentage of video games do not require choice so much as they require the execution of actions by the player. In his naivety, he doesn’t understand video games actually provide the largest amount of tools for conveying artistic expression over both film and literature. The pure and simple fact that game developers can choose to either guide players through linear stories or force them to make choices as part of dynamic ones gives them the ultimate “authorial control.” But never mind that the mere act of providing players the opportunity to choose, or forcing them to choose, can have artistic ramifications in and of itself.

It is equally ignorant of Ebert to imply that there are no profound works amongst video games. Certainly, to his knowledge, no one has been able to cite a game worthy of comparison to great entries from other fields. But that’s probably because he knows no one who can name them. Honestly, I’d find it difficult to believe no expert in the field would mention Metal Gear Solid as an interesting treatment of moral ambiguity. Or Planescape: Torment as a complex handling of cognition and mortality with existentialist undertones. Both of these games had their moments in the limelight before Ebert made his comments. And subsequently, after his statements were made, we’ve had BioShock addressing utopian and dystopian concepts presented in almost Orwellian fashion.

That said, I’m of the opinion that there are definitely lines to be drawn between art and entertainment, however subjective they may be. I certainly believe the 1960’s Batman TV series is merely entertainment, while Batman Begins is an artistic representation of themes involving existentialism, justice, fear and morality. But to extend the generalization across an entire medium that has potential to actually outdo other mediums in opportunities for artistic presentation is folly in the most grandiose sense of the word. Especially when a video game can be structured like a movie with the simple added element that the player must control the actions of the character to succeed in progressing the storyline.

But if it’s the case that video games provide the most flexible of mediums for artistic expression and authorial control, why are there so many people who perceive otherwise? Perhaps it is because video games also provide the largest opportunity for the production of pure entertainment. Often developers will rely on the fact that games can be enjoyable without a great storyline. So they let the progression and subtle details of their stories falter in light of the fact that a lot of people won’t care, so long as the gameplay itself provides amusement. Michael Swaim wrote a great article listing games with ridiculous premises but great gameplay proving “you don’t have to be Tolstoy, or even coherent, to design a hit game.” So the percentage of games with great artistic expression is considerably lower than that of movies and literature for this reason. So perhaps this is why there is such a large amount of prejudice held by outsiders that video games cannot be art by definition.

However, in picking Ebert’s argument apart and providing examples of games with a high degree of artistic value, we show that video games have the potential to contain great and meaningful stories that treat abstract concepts and themes with the intelligence they deserve. That is something even Ebert admits. But it is upon the shoulders of video game developers to continue this trend and create more masterpieces that establish video games as a medium deserving respect for more than being simply conduits of entertainment, but also for insightful artistic expression.

My Favorite Machinima

I’m honestly not a big fan of machinima. Most of it is dry and uninteresting. And for those that do stand out, it’s typically for the wrong reasons. For example, The Internet Is for Porn is considered one of the staples of WoW machinima by a lot of players. But the primary feature of the video, it’s song, was neither written nor performed by the people who made the video. And the video itself doesn’t have anything to add over the musical.

But there are diamonds in the rough. Unfortunately, however, they are few and far between. You’ll note that all of my top five are parodical or musical in nature. That’s because I dislike most of the fan-made dramatic machinima, or don’t like it enough to put in my top five. I really, really, liked the editing in Tales of the Past III. However, I disliked the story arc concerning Blazer. And while I like the Black Temple trailer, it’s not machinima, since it’s canon produced by Blizzard. Otherwise, it’d be in my top five.

5. Switcher: Deity

Consider the time when this came out. Only the alliance had paladins, and only the Horde had shamans. And, yes, troll racials actually sucked. But if you’re wondering about the origin of “FROSTSHOOOOCK!” This is it.

4. Jimmy: The World of Warcraft Story

The moral of this story, kids, is you better damn well be careful about which faction you pick when you head up to Shattrath. Level 63… 62… it doesn’t matter. You better be careful! Because Everquest sucks!

I’m sure a lot of people find the veiled criticism of WoW offensive. But criticism is a necessary part of game commentary, especially in parody.

3. Frame of Mind

Most WoW music videos simply feature a bunch of characters singing the song. This one actually tells a story that fits the song well. The editing is also some of the best I’ve seen in any machinima.

2. Big Blue Dress

The song is original. That’s all that really needs to be said. Cranius did some awesome work.

1. Billy Maclure

In order to fully realize what makes this parody so good, you have to watch the original: Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean. Obviously, I’m a sucker for parodies. I just personally find them more amusing and interesting than most of the serious dramatic machinima out there.

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