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Encrypted Text: An interview with Pathal, Shadowcraft's unofficial lead dev

Pathal
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Encrypted Text for assassination, combat and subtlety rogues. Chase Christian will be your guide to the world of shadows every Wednesday. Feel free to email me with any questions or article suggestions you'd like to see covered here.

After Aldriana decided to give up the title of master rogue theorycrafter, nobody knew who would take up his mantle. A handful of rogue champions worked together to develop Shadowcraft's engine for Mists of Pandaria. As time has marched on, many rogues faded away, but one has risen to the top. Pathal has been the lead developer working on the Shadowcraft back-end for several months now, tweaking the numbers as patches and hotfixes drop and working on exposing more options and expanding SC's capabilities.

I had the opportunity to speak with Pathal about his history as a rogue, what he thinks of the class and its mechanics, how he got started in rogue theorycrafting, and what working on Shadowcraft has been like.

About the rogue

Encrypted Text: Tell me a bit about your rogue career. When did you start your first rogue? What's your favorite part about playing a rogue?

Started playing WoW during BC as one of those night elf hunters that everyone hated at the time. Once I started doing Karazahn, I rolled a rogue specifically for the level 29 PvP bracket. That didn't last long, and brought my rogue up to 70. For the rest of BC, I alternated between my hunter and rogue, depending on what the raid team needed that night. It stayed that way into mid-Wrath (TotC), where I eventually started only used my rogue.

Since then, it's been a steady progression into learning more about game mechanics to where I am now. I've still kept a large arsenal of alts over the years. I've played every class at max level in a raid (with the exception of warlock and druid at this point) at one expansion or another. Something about being the village bicycle.

If there's a situation where I can sneak around a large group of enemies to kill a specific target, I'm probably having a good time.

You have quite a few alts and you've raided on other classes. What keeps you coming back to the rogue? Do you have a favorite or preferred spec?

I come back to rogue mostly because I've played it for so long that most things are just intuitive now. Very few classes have the core/inherent rotation and strategy that rogues have though. They're very dependent on doing something ASAP. It's kind of a turn off for me.

Every time I try another spec or alt, I usually get frustrated by the fact that everything is based around getting abilities off as soon as the GCD ends. Some people like that (actually it seems most players like having something to do like that), but I would much rather deal with timing of abilities and patience as a skill factor, than who has the fastest twitchy finger.

At this point I would consider myself more of an assassination rogue. It's slower, emphasizes timing over twitchy fingers, and requires planning which makes it significantly more enjoyable than combat to me.

I used to, and maybe I still kind of, hold a special place for subtlety in my heart, but since sub's capabilities in Mists were drastically reduced, I've turned away from it. It really is an interesting spec, but without a niche of its own and performance that's only "on par" at best, I struggle to justify it in a raid.

I don't think I've ever disliked a fight where the emphasis was on doing as much DPS as possible.

Do you PvP much on your rogue? Any particular reasons why or why not? What's your favorite part of raiding on your rogue?

I rarely PvP, and usually not until the end of an expansion, or long stretches of farm content. The subjectivity has always been a barrier for me. I've always found it odd that there's rarely a mathematical way to approach PvP optimally. We can determine the value of burst, what Nerve Strike is worth, etc. But figuring out when the optimal time to use Kidney Shot is a little subjective and almost arbitrary. It sort of plants this seed of doubt in me that's turned me away from PvP.

So as someone that's played a lot of different classes, do you find yourself going to the same lengths to figure out those classes and their mechanics as you do for the rogue? Are you involved in the theorycrafting for any other classes?

I wish I did. I've added windwalker monks to the list of things I wish Shadowcraft could handle, but I feel like there's always something else I could do for rogues that I've just given rogue stuff priority. I'm not sure I'll ever get around to learning their rotations in depth enough to formulate some estimates. When I'm just playing the class in whatever, I usually only do a cursory read on general tactics. Going too far tends to eat into time I could be working on rogues or whatever raid prep I might be doing.

Tell us about the guy behind the rogue.

I'm just a guy. I put my pants on one leg at a time. I enjoy a cold beer and steak subs. I complain about my current job whenever I get the chance, and I spent way too much time on Reddit. I wish there was something special or unique to put here, but there isn't. Well, I've been to Disney World as a kid more times than I can count, but I don't think that earns me any bragging points.

Theorycrafting

What parts of theorycrafting do you find engaging? Do you like doing the actual experimenting in-game, or modeling mechanics at a high-level, or the in-depth programming of the actual engine? Do you have experience with math or engineering in the real world?

It can vary a little depending on what needs to be done. Things that need large data sets are usually pretty boring for me. Like when I sat on a target dummy and wrote a script to track how the legendary daggers proc'ed. I literally had keyboard macro set to cancel stacks every 5 seconds and set it to auto attack as I did chores. But there's some things that are neat, or require short tests with creativity to set them up. It can be hard to know which will be what beforehand though. The way tier 13 2-piece for sub was calculated comes to mind, where I thought of a boring solution while another EJ poster had a shorter and more creative method.

I don't have much of a formal education in advanced mathematics or engineering, relatively speaking. I went to school for computer science, completed my Calculus, Discrete Math, and Probability and Stats courses, and as a kid I spent all my time building something with Kinex, Legos or whatever I had around. That, however, is the extent of my engineering and math education, and at this point in my life it's largely just a hobby. I'd probably forget even more of my stats and calculus if I weren't doing it though. Gotta keep that mind limber.

I would also have to add that coding it is a little more interesting.

Do you work on code for anything else?

All of the programming I've done in the past year has been on Shadowcraft, unfortunately. It would be nice if I could get a job where I use C/C++ or Java or something though.

Obviously you have been very involved in Shadowcraft development in Mists; how active were you in rogue theorycrafting before Aldriana let go of the reins? Was there something that made you decide to start contributing more actively?

It's been very gradual. I actually didn't code anything in Shadowcraft during Cataclysm. I only began reading the code and keeping up with the changes in 4.2, when they released Firelands and I started maintaining the subtlety thread. Prior to this, I only focused on general rules and calculations, and didn't get to involved with the higher level calculations.

When development for Mists began, Aldriana had already announced his plans to stop working on it. I offered a helping hand to Nextormento, and primarily spent my time updating mechanics with the beta patches while he redid a lot of changes to the core: things like the talent changes, hit table changes. We started working together on figuring out how to determine probability and distributions for assassination due to Blindside, but he had real life issues that pulled him away from development. I ended up patching combat and sub with what we had when Mists launched, just to try to get things in the general area. From that point on, I was pretty much the last man standing. Indz made huge contributions to the UI (that he now maintains) that many rogues have continued to use, and a few other people have continued to read the code and changes as I improve stuff (Fierydemise being a more recent person).

Since I'm the unofficial self declared lead dev at this point, I've started doing things like completely redesigning the way we do combat calculations, forthcoming advanced parameters and whatever else I think benefits the engine and community.

If there was someone else like Nextormento still working on this, I'd probably be more restrained (the combat revamp needed to happen, no matter who was coding it). But I think the fact that I'm missing a partner who knows how to work with, and code within, Shadowcraft has given me a lot more incentive and motivation to make sure I'm getting everything done that I think I can.

Opinions

Do you think that the more difficult specs should yield more damage when played perfectly, or that complex and simple specs should deal about the same amount of damage to allow rogues to play whatever they like? Many sub rogues think that subtlety, when executed flawlessly, should be the top spec due to the difficulty involved.

I agree with that sentiment. I think it helps players identify their skill, it provides more variation among specs, and adds to the decision making process on picking specs. If you do 10-15% more DPS but it requires even 80% more effort, that sounds like a decent trade off from my perspective. It should make preparing for fights significantly more interesting too.

Are there any rogue mechanics that you just don't like? Anything that doesn't work well or conflicts with how you'd design the rogue? Personally, I am not a big fan of the GCD shenanigans happening with AR/SB/4-piece right now.

Tricks of the Trade still gets me. I don't understand why the isolated solo thief archetype is philanthropic. The ability doesn't make sense and it has very little depth since it's just "cast on CD" on the vast majority of the fights. It's just not a good ability and I feel like rogue DPS is balanced with trading it with another rogue in mind.

The 4-piece is a mixed bag. I haven't had the opportunity to use it myself, but whenever I think of it I think of this video. Crazy!

I ask everyone this one: if you could steal one ability from another class, what would it be, and why?

I love Bloodlust. But it wouldn't really make sense to me to see a rogue running around Bloodlusting. So I'm leaning toward Blink. Rogue mobility would be ridiculous and be so much fun to Shadowstep then Blink while stealthing past enemies. Too bad it will never happen.

Sneak in every Wednesday for our patch 5.2 guide, a deep-dive into the world of assassination and combat rogue AoE rotations -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to a raid-ready rogue.

Filed under: Rogue, (Rogue) Encrypted Text

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