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Ask Mr. Robot Q&A, page 2

Ask Mr. Robot
Read the first part of our interview with Peter Coley of the Ask Mr. Robot team.

Chase Hasbrouck: In WoW, the myriad of tools available to help optimize your character often leads to cookie-cutter characters. Would the game be better off with a more "black-box" mentality, where the data required to make optimizations was not readily available?

Peter Coley: I love WoW, but my biggest complaint is the fact that there is generally "one way" to play a spec correctly or "one way" to kill a boss. The new talents announced for 5.0 seem like a huge step in the right direction -- the design goal is to give people different but equally powerful options for playing a spec.

I don't think that making the game mechanics a black box is the correct approach to bringing variety back to character builds or fight strategies. People will figure it out ... or at least an approximation that is close enough. The mechanics would have to become so complex and obfuscated that people would no longer enjoy gearing their characters. When a player has no idea if an item is better or worse than their current item, that's not fun.

I think that Blizzard has done an extremely good job by providing a gearing system that you even can create an optimizer for. Many players find it to be a fun metagame, and I wouldn't want to see that taken away. Instead, we see Blizzard taking the approach of giving more varied abilities (and forcing a player to choose one ability or another). That is a great move -- now all they have to do is allow these more interesting game mechanics to actually work on bosses. They moved away from "gimmick" fights or allowing you to cheese a boss with a certain spec but swung too far in the other direction. Hopefully they can find a middle ground that is enjoyable.

Matthew Rossi: I'm curious as to how often they update their stat weighting.

Peter Coley: At a minimum, every major and minor patch we update weights that might be affected by the game changes. Whenever we get feedback from users that the weights aren't working as expected, we investigate and tweak as appropriate. If we don't get feedback ... Mr. Robot assumes that he is perfect.

Frostheim: How does spec score work?

Peter Coley: By this I assume that you mean how does the total score work? At the most basic level, your total score is the sum of your total stats from gear multiplied by the weight for each stat. We then apply further adjustments such as adding a score for set bonuses, adding scores for trinket procs, adjusting for diminishing returns for tanks, etc. If a stat has a hard cap, any amount that exceeds the cap is given no value. We also allow the concept of a "soft cap" on a stat. If a stat is soft-capped, there is a reduced weight after you pass the soft cap.

Frostheim: What data would you like to have access to that you do not currently?

Peter Coley: For WoW, we have access to most of the data that we need. The main thing that would be nice would be an easy way to get some aggregate combat log results to help make better healing stat weights. Eric has been working here and there on a pretty advanced technique for coming up with a better approach for healers, who are probably the most underrepresented players in the hardcore, numbers-based theorycraft community. We have considered seeing if we could do something with World of Logs, but it keeps getting pushed down the to-do list.

Now for a new game like SWTOR, lack of data is going to be a huge challenge. We are on the lookout for people working on cool data sources for SWTOR, so if you're working on a project or are a big SWTOR theorycrafter, hit us up on Twitter at @AskMrRobot.

Frostheim: How can players use Mr. Robot to become better players?

Good question! Many people don't realize how helpful Mr. Robot can be for players of any skill level. For a player who does not have much knowledge of the details of how WoW's gearing system works, Mr. Robot does two things for you: It gives you an out-of-the-box gear setup that will be competitive at any level of play. This will make sure that your gearing strategy is not holding you back, even if you don't know all of the details.

Going beyond that, Mr. Robot can help a new player start to learn how to prioritize different stats and pieces of gear. Our default gearing strategies are very well researched, and while they are not absolutely perfect for every individual, they can be used as very good general guidelines for any player.

For the more advanced player who already has a strong grasp on how to properly gear, Mr. Robot can still provide value. It is an easy way to get a starting point from which you can hand-tweak your gear to squeeze out every last ounce of DPS. This is a huge time-saver. For example, as one of the authors of Mr. Robot, I have a very, very in-depth understanding of how to gear. But I would never bother doing all of my reforges by hand at this point – I always start with Mr. Robot's suggestion to save me time, and he quite often points out an option that I didn't think of. You can put whatever weights you want into Mr. Robot and use the optimizer to explore available gear options and gear modifications. Mr. Robot is probably the easiest tool for exploring and ranking gear lists.

For the most advanced users, you can use Mr. Robot in conjunction with SimulationCraft to find perfectly tailored stat weights for your character and easily test different gear setups. We have the ability to export your current setup on Mr. Robot to a simc input file, making it extremely easy to use simc to verify any result from Mr. Robot.

With our upcoming site changes, you will be able to manually build any gear setup you want rather than using the optimizer, if you wish. (For those familiar with it, the functionality will be similar to chardev.) The advantage over current tools that allow you to do this is huge, though. Mr. Robot is fast and easy to navigate. Mr. Robot profiles will be integrated with all of our top-notch optimizer features and will support direct conversion to simc input files for the hardcore users and also support export to popular in-game reforging mods.

Mjolnir: Any chance of being able to set raid buffs? If a 10 man-comp lacks specific buffs – say, the 5% spell crit debuff -- it really skews the results. I can only imagine a poor frost mage wondering why he's 5% off crit cap after using it.

Peter Coley: Yes, we may make the raid buffs that affect gear optimization editable (5% crit and 5% spell haste are the most common) via some simple options. Right now, one can edit the soft/hard caps to adjust for them, but that is admittedly not very user-friendly.

Ask Mr. Robot gear optimizergunar.bastos: With the current efforts on Blizzard part to remove the idea of right spec/gear/etc. and allow to different playstyles and choices, do you consider that having a site that can list in seconds gear, gem and reforge choices doesn't hurt the game more than it helps? In any case, how do you intend to factor in this freedom Blizz want us to have in your algorithm?

Peter Coley: Sites like Mr. Robot will exist no matter what Blizzard does. Many people think it's fun to optimize gear, it's like a game within the game. That said, I don't believe that a tool like Mr. Robot in itself hurts the game – the idea that proliferates in WoW that you have to be exactly, perfectly geared for maximum possible DPS in a stand-still fight is what hurts the game.

In reality, there are multiple ways to gear a character that are all very, very viable even today. A good example is feral cat druids: You could stack haste to the exclusion of all else ... or you could stack mastery until your bleeds are doing ridiculous damage. Both strategies result in nearly identical DPS; your total damage done in a fight will only fluctuate by 1%, maybe 2% on average. Think about that: 1% or 2%, for two completely different gearing styles. That's pretty small.

Mr. Robot can help you create any build that you want. If you want to find the best possible haste build, we can do that. If you want to find the best possible mastery build, we can do that too! If Blizzard succeeds in breaking people out of this There Is One Way To Spec, Theorycraft Website X Is My Master mindset, that would be great for Mr. Robot. We would provide multiple default builds to suit different playstyles, so that people could maximize a particular gear approach that they enjoy rather than having just one default.

As the game stands right now, though, we have to very carefully tailor our default builds so that when the hardcore theorycrafters visit our site, they immediately think it is the "one and only correct way to gear." Otherwise, people dismiss Mr. Robot as "incorrect" or start bashing it, without even exploring or understanding the flexibility that the tool offers.

Big Shoe: This is just an example, but a shadow priest friend who uses Mr. Robot was wondering why he was asked to favor pure hit over spirit on a given piece of gear, when his spirit to hit conversion is 100%, and the item stats were otherwise identical. The spirit provides some trivial mana regen and the same amount of hit, yet Mr. Robot wanted him to go with the pure hit item instead. What I'm asking for is some insight into how Mr. Robot uses highly advanced robotic napkin math to compare similar specs and items and decide which is optimal, and why. Thanks!

Peter Coley: In general, if two items are otherwise equivalent but one has spirit and another has hit, for a shadow priest, we always favor the item with spirit. If it was not doing so in a particular case, there may have been another factor at play, or it may have just been a bug! If you can reproduce that case, feel free to let us know and we'll take a look and fix it.

That said, spirit is identical to hit rating for a shadow priest – spirit gives no in-combat mana regen at all for shadow. It gives a little more out-of-combat regen, but that is not worth considering in Mr. Robot's opinion, at least for PVE. The reason that we favor spirit items over hit is that there is generally less competition for spirit items in most raid compositions, so you will generally have an easier time acquiring spirit items. Also, spirit items have better crossover with healing specs; thus, you may get more use out of a spirit item if you like to dual spec.

Quaza: Does Mr. Robot take diminishing into consideration for its stat weights? (And, if it doesn't, are there any plans for this?)

Marvelous: I think there is a place for automated gear appraisal, but it has some pretty serious glitches. Most notably, for warriors it ranks the stat weight for dodge and parry much higher than mastery, and then tells you to reforge dodge and parry to mastery on the same screen! Hehe. Guess they have some work to do!

Peter Coley: These two questions have the same answer: Yes, Mr. Robot accounts for diminishing returns on avoidance. Mr. Robot also accounts for the relatively rapid scaling of mastery for warrior tanks (as you get more of it, its value per point goes up due to critical block). We also account for the total avoidance cap, shield block uptime, and hold the line uptime. We also do detailed weighting of avoidance trinket procs, which give a large amount of avoidance in one big chunk (thus they get diminished more than a smaller, static amount of avoidance would).

In general, Mr. Robot is a very advanced tank gear optimizer. The weights that you see on the screen are the starting point before DR kicks in. Your actual gear is then examined and the weights are dynamically adjusted behind the scenes. That is why it will usually suggest getting more mastery, because the crossover point between avoidance and mastery is at pretty low gear levels.

Don't tell the non-tanking people out there, but I put a lot of extra effort into the tanking optimizer because I play tanking classes almost exclusively. I felt that the community really lacked a quality tool that would handle all of these complicated things like DR and mastery scaling. I even made a bear druid simulator (RoboMaul) to accurately analyze the crossover points between avoidance-heavy and Savage-Defense-focused bear builds! (Contrary to common belief, reforging all of your bear's gear to dodge rating is not the only viable build.)

DPS classes have SimulationCraft as a great tool for testing ideas, but tanks have always been dependent on clumsy spreadsheets. No more! We finally have a tool with Mr. Robot that does all of this complicated math on the fly, tailored to your specific character. We could definitely work on making all of these things more obvious -- we are trying to think of a way to do that without cluttering the UI.

Thanks so much for answering our reader and Twitter follower questions, Peter!

Learn more about optimizing your gear at Ask Mr. Robot.


"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from a player battling Alzheimer's disease to Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn), gaming industry insider Liz Danforth and El of El's Extreme Anglin'. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

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