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Mages come in two general flavors: the kind who love to blow things up willy-nilly, and the kind who love to blow things up based on a precise mathematical model delineating optimal throughput and efficiency. Lhivera of US Aggramar-A is the second kind. His love of theorycrafting landed him in hot water with Blizzard recently, after he posted speculative analyses of Mage performance based on leaked Wrath of the Lich King alpha information. Blizzard didn't like the discussion appearing on their forums, and Lhivera ended up perma-banned from posting there again.
But Lhivera is alive and well and still crunching numbers, both in game and over at the Elitist Jerks forums, where he's made a new home among fellow theorycrafters. 15 Minutes of Fame spent a few days in e-mails with Lhivera to bring you a closer look at the numbers behind magecrafting. This week, we talk with Lhivera about Blizzard's ban-hammer and the appeal of theorycrafting; be sure to tune in for Part II of our interview, next week.
Main character: Lhivera (Human Frost Mage)
Other level 70 characters: Macpherson (Dwarf Hunter), Meyrink (Human Arcane Mage), Thotha (Undead Warlock), Nuita (Human Warlock)
15 Minutes of Fame: So how long have you been into World of Warcraft, Lhivera?
Lhivera: My wife bought it for me as an early birthday present in mid-January 2005. I moved through a few guilds looking for the right balance between casual play and progression, until I joined Order of the Raven in April 2006 and began raiding. They were working on the Twin Emperors at the time.
And how did that lead you into becoming the Theorycrafting Guy for Mages?
I think it was some two and a half years ago that I started to get interested in the numbers behind the game. My interest intensified when TBC was in one of its beta phases, and we had some leaked numbers to play with, and I wanted to figure out what impact they would have -- precisely what got me into trouble this time, in fact. But by the time I had things figured out enough to start talking about it publicly, the leaked information was officially public as well.
The major factor that made me as prominent as I became was not the quality of my theorycrafting, which was really no better than what some other people were doing, but simply the fact that I stuck around on the official forums to talk about it. It's a much larger community, and one that appreciates being able to have questions asked and answered about how theorycrafting works, and so there was a sort of feedback loop there.
So what's the real scoop about the ban-hammer -- did Blizzard really ban you from the forums for theorycrafting based on leaked alpha information?
When the information from the alpha leaked, I had not been raiding for a few months. A family health crisis was demanding much of my time and attention, and doing so in a fairly unpredictable way; it wasn't practical any more for me to set aside three and a half hours that I could devote entirely to a raid. That time might pass without incident or interruption, but there was also a good chance it wouldn't and that I would be forced to drop out mid-raid.
This wasn't fair to my guild mates, neither those inside the dungeon nor those who could be inside in my place. So after trying to make this work for a while, I decided to step back, and the game became much smaller for me. I ran dailies for a while. I did some heroics. When possible, I got into late-night Zul'Aman runs. I worked on leveling more alts. I worked on reputation and bought a couple racial mounts. But without raiding, my interest was flagging.
Additionally, I, like many other Mage players, was not happy with the direction the class had taken in the level 70 raid game. We'll probably never know whether Mage DPS fell behind in the late raiding game accidentally, or if Blizzard simply placed a much higher value on trash-clearing utility than players do, but the simple fact was that the class was not performing the way players felt it ought to in a raid environment.
So I was in a situation where I couldn't participate in the part of the game I loved best, and even if I could, my favorite class simply didn't feel right anymore. The game was slipping away from me. And while a specific video game can't last most of your life the way many other hobbies can, you never want to lose something you've loved; I was looking for reasons to keep playing.
And then, into the middle of all this dropped a great big shiny package of newness and excitement -- right off the back of a truck. And I tore it open and started poking around inside it, because not only was it full of general newness that was helping me feel excited about the game again, there was also some Mage-specific newness that seemed to be hitting some very important nails right smack on the head.
So I started doing what I love to do: trying to figure out what the changes meant in terms of actual numbers and sharing my findings with others. And after a couple nights of that, Blizzard flipped the switch on my forum account. I knew that was a possible outcome; I knew they didn't want this stuff talked about. I was too excited to care. I let myself get carried away, they took a completely legitimate action, and I don't blame them for it a bit. The fault is entirely mine.
That said, I do feel that they're making a mistake trying to keep the changes under wraps. I completely understand them wanting new "story" content to be a surprise that people experience for the first time when they install the expansion and start playing. But with class and mechanics changes, I feel they and their customers would both be better served by a much more open approach. They'd get more feedback and more ideas for solving problems, some of them possibly useful. More importantly, players would feel involved in the process and hence more personally invested in the game.
How did Blizzard's action actually effect you on a day-to-day basis? We hear you've been active recently over at Elitist Jerks ... keeping the Mage flame alive?
I've moved over there, yes, to get my discussion fix, so the official forum ban hasn't really had much effect on me directly. In fact, I learn more at the Elitist Jerks forums, and I'm not answering the same question over and over the way I often did on the official forums -- so I guess it's actually improved my quality of life. It did feel pretty good to be a resource on the official forums, and I miss that a bit, but other people can perform that role as well as I can.
I briefly considered opening up a forum on my own site for Mage discussion, but ultimately I decided that, if successful, that would only hurt the community that's already over at the Elitist Jerks forum. Plus, I'd be stuck with the task of moderating a forum, and I just don't want to make the time for that at present.
Tell us about your online theorycrafting tool.
I developed it entirely for my own purposes; originally, I had no intention of making it public (and this becomes embarrassingly obvious if you look at the code). I was doing numbers by hand for myself and my guild mates, showing what kind of sustained DPS we could expect from various level 70 specs. When I got tired of doing it by hand, I wrote a Python script that could do it for me.
When people started asking me to run it again with their own preferred values, I decided it would be easier just to build a form where they could plug those values in for themselves, ported it to PHP. What I have now is just a somewhat expanded version of that port. A couple of vital contributions were made by Zxile (who wrote the code that grabs your stats from the Armory) and Zaldinar (who worked out the formula for the crit increase provided by Combustion) -- and of course all the various suggestions I've received from other people, not all of which I've had a chance to implement.
I have also always used it, usually privately, as a "what if" tool to play with ideas I had for talent changes or additions. I'd come up with an idea for a talent that would make Shatter useful against a boss, for example, plug it into the TCoM code, and use the results to tune proc rates or effects until the numbers looked reasonable. One notable such change that I did make public was the "What if the damage tax didn't exist?" checkbox, back when Improved Fireball and Improved Frostbolt carried a 10% coefficient penalty. People were able to see the real effect that removing the tax would have on their DPS and use that information in discussions about it on the forums; I like to think that had some small impact on the eventual decision to remove the tax.
The tool that's going to replace mine is the new one Vontre's working on, Magegraf. His work has completely leapfrogged mine; it pulls a lot more data from the Armory, it compares not only several Mage specs but several Warlock specs, and it gets around the problem of trying to average the values of cooldowns, procs and mana use/regeneration by actually running a complete simulated fight timeline for every spec you're comparing -- and it does it quickly. All this, and graphs.
It's possible that I will retire the Theorycraft-o-Matic now that Magegraf is here, although the side-by-side comparison of specs and individual spells is something I still like about my tool, so I might keep working on it. Depends a great deal on how much time I have going into the next expansion.
What resources do you recommend for Mages seeking to delve into class mechanics?
Besides Magegraf, the best resource any Mage can have is the Mage community itself -- the official forums, Elitist Jerks, wowwiki.com, your guild mates, all that. Read, participate, gain a greater understanding of the mechanics underlying the class. The theorycrafting tools can give you numbers, but it helps to understand why they give you the numbers they do.