Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Patch 3.2: the Ten-foot tall Bug

"Nothing is so frightening as what's behind the closed door.’ – Stephen King

In his book Danse Macabre, a treatise on horror movies, books, radio and TV, author Stephen King wrote an excellent passage about how monsters are always more frightening when we can’t see them – when they are a shape in the dark, or a sound under the bed or in the closet. The reason is that, while it’s hidden, it could be anything. As King writes ‘When you made the monster in your mind…it was a perfect monster.’ Good movies makers understand this principle, and will keep the monster in the closet as long as they can, to keep you and me on the edge of our seats as long as possible.

The weeks leading up to the release of Patch 3.2 (in fact, pretty much every major patch I’ve seen in the 2+ years that I’ve been playing WoW) is much like the walk a movie hero/heroine makes towards that closed door at the end of the hallway. Even though the patch notes tell us exactly what’s being changed, they still represent the ‘closed door’, because we really don’t know how much the change will affect us. In fact there seems to be an interesting progression in how the community deals with that closed door. It starts with the release of the patch notes detailing changes for each class. This kicks off an eruption on the official boards (and in blogs and other forums) of shock and disbelief, followed quickly by Righteous Indignation (sounds like a great Paladin spell, doesn’t it?) and outright rage. Typical posts go along these lines: ‘They’re making obsolete! You’ll never see us in raids anymore!’ followed closely by the ever-popular ‘This is a slap in the face!’ and the old standby ‘I’m quitting/rerolling’.

As we get closer to the door, we get into the ‘Desperate Prayer’ stage (in the movies, you’d be scrunching down in your seat, muttering ‘don’topenthedoordon’topenthedoordon’topenthedoor’. In this stage, the more thoughtful players fill the board with all manner of theorycraft and hard numbers from Actual Raid Parses from the live realms to demonstrate to Blizzard just how this change will gut Class X – the hope is that Blizzard will examine their numbers, and realize that the player base is far more knowledgeable about the game than their own developers, and will either:
a. cut out the changes altogether
b. mitigate the changes a bit (nerf the nerf), or
c. nerf the Hell out of the other guys

Of course threats, insults and player numbers aren’t enough to sway Blizzard. We don’t want them to open the door, but Ghostcrawler is there to fling open the door and shove us through. I’ll complete the King quote from the beginning to describe what happens next:
"Nothing is so frightening as what's behind the closed door. The audience holds its breath along with the protagonist as she/he (more often she) approaches that door. The protagonist throws it open, and there is a ten-foot-tall bug. The audience screams, but this particular scream has an oddly relieved sound to it. 'A bug ten feet tall is pretty horrible', the audience thinks, 'but I can deal with a ten-foot-tall bug. I was afraid it might be a hundred feet tall'.”

With the Monster of Patch 3.2 officially out of the closet, we can now think rationally. We can examine it in the bright light of day, size it up, and do what the heroes and heroines do in the movies: grab the nearest chainsaw, fireplace poker, or other conveniently-located improvised weapon and go kick some ten-foot bug butt. Learn to play with the new tools Blizzard has given us, because the next closed door is just down the hall to the right.

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