If you have ever been to the Rogue section of the Elitist Jerks forums, chances are good that you've read one of the amazing posts by Vulajin of Mal'Ganis. His Roguecraft spreadsheet and Rogue PvE DPS discussion thread are amongst my most treasured resources. Still very active in the community, he's been involved in some of the recent work concerning boss crit depression and a possible change in a Rogue's chance to miss.
I had an opportunity this week to sit down with the very intelligent and self-effacing Vulajin and talk about a few different topics, and I wanted to share some of that discourse with you today. We talked a great deal about the current Rogue hotness that is Honor Among Thieves and also concerning the impact that we as players can make upon the design of WoW in the future.
Chase Christian: Do you believe that there will ever be more than 1 viable Rogue talent specialization? Considering the fact that Rogues are the class most associated with theorycrafting and min/maxing, do you believe that it's possible to have two specs perform equally (at the same gear level / raid level)? There are different playstyles, but considering that a Rogue only cares about maximizing damage (which not all do, but for the sake of argument) will only truly have one option in a given scenario, even if the difference is only a couple percent?
Vulajin: Mathematically, it is effectively impossible to balance two specs perfectly against one another without having all of their talents be carbon copies of one another. Practically speaking, we currently have two roughly equal specs in Mutilate (51/13/7) and Combat (7/51/13 and its variants). They are not numerically equivalent, but each has advantages in certain situations, and each brings a raid debuff. One will inevitably appear higher on the spreadsheets, but subjective considerations like fight-specific tasks, raid composition, and even loot drops tend to make the decision less mathy than it has traditionally been.
Chase Christian: Do you (personally) place any importance or value to playstyle over damage? If there were two specs, one with a very simple rotation (SnD / Rupture), and one with a very complex rotation (think HfB / SnD / Rupture / Envenom / other timed spell / other timed spell / etc), would you prefer the simple rotation or the complex rotation? Would you choose a less powerful talent spec if it meant a more enjoyable playstyle for you (and if so, how much DPS would you sacrifice)?
Vulajin: Haha, you're asking the wrong person this question, because my answer is simple: no.
If you are raiding with the intent to progress in PvE, then as a rogue, your job is to make things dead. It naturally follows that you should attempt to do the best job of making things dead that you can do. This means that you choose the optimal spec, gear yourself optimally for that spec, and perform the optimal cycle/rotation/whatever. That, to me, is fun, regardless of what spec it is: just knowing that I'm pushing myself to the limit, even such as it is in a computer game.
By way of example, I recently specced and played HAT through a Naxx 25 raid. I completely despise this spec and everything it stands for, but currently top DPS is achieved by putting multiple HAT rogues in a group together and exploiting the bug. (For those that are unaware, HAT is supposed to grant the rogue one combo point each time a member of his party crits an ability or spell. Currently, the rogue gains one combo point /per HAT rogue in his group/ each time a member of his party crits an ability or spell - so three HAT rogues means each one gets three combo points per ability crit by the group.)
Honor Among Thieves
Chase Christian: What is it about the HAT spec and playstyle that specifically turns you off? For me, it's the shying away from combo point generation and energy regeneration and the focus solely spamming damage spells that keeps me spec'd into Mutilate.
Vulajin: A guildmate of mine joked that the reason I hate HAT is that I can't model it in my spreadsheet - which might be at least a little bit true. Really, though, the primary problem I have with HAT is that your DPS is entirely determined by the luck of the draw - do your group members crit their abilities often? If so, great; if not, get owned. It's not even luck you can control, as with Combat Potency, because it depends on your group members' gear, ability usage patterns, and of course, their ability not to die. A HAT cycle can vary to ridiculous extent because you can go for five seconds without anybody in your group critting a single ability, then suddenly gain five combo points in one second because everybody got a crit. It effectively makes playing the spec a constant guessing game.
Player feedback vs game design
Chase Christian: Do you feel that Blizzard has already figured out all of the key aspects of our class on their own and planned for the specs we are seeing today (HAT, etc) or do you feel that the Rogue community figures out what works and what doesn't and then the developers act on that? How important do you feel your contributions are to Blizzard's development process?
Vulajin: As far as my role in that process, I'll be blunt: I'm just some guy on the Internet who punches numbers on a calculator and makes really long-winded posts on the forums occasionally to argue something that I think needs to be argued. Generally I know how to add and subtract and multiply the numbers to arrive at reasonably correct conclusions, but in the end anything I know about the game is second-hand knowledge (provided by in-game tooltips or Wowhead spell data) and reverse-engineered mechanics (in other words, "guessed"). Although the community has done an extraordinary job of figuring out the mechanics of this game, I wouldn't even begin to suggest that I know any more than Blizzard does about their own product.
Chase Christian: Do you feel that Blizzard actually implements player suggestions and feedback? Do you prefer your role as player and "stress tester"; or if offered, would you prefer to be behind the scenes designing the internal components?
Vulajin: In all seriousness, I do think players make contributions at both ends of the spectrum. Many changes are not matters of exact balance, but matters of opinion. As a result, by making persuasive arguments, players have gotten changes implemented. For example, I'd like to think my passionate posts arguing for the removal of positional requirements on abilities helped get Mutilate changed in beta. And I'm also about 90% certain that input from the community primarily led to the removal of the cooldown on Fan of Knives (coming in patch 3.0.8). Frankly, having some inside knowledge of the industry, I would say that I prefer being on the outside [when it comes to design]. Being on the outside enables you to work with the entire community, to figure things out for yourself, and to participate in the constant process of evolution that is the MMO experience.
Chase Christian: One last question. If you could take one talent/spell from another class, what would you take (for Rogues, not you personally)?
Vulajin: I choose Blink. Note that if I had my way, Blink would work properly 100% of the time, and we would get this 100% working version. The first reaction to this suggestion is probably, "we already have that, it's called Shadowstep." Yes, but Shadowstep doesn't break roots, doesn't break stuns, and has a 30 second cooldown. In addition, Shadowstep requires a hostile target. Blink does break roots and stuns (though it doesn't break snares), has a 15 second cooldown, and requires no target.
Blink would give rogues an on-demand movement tool that could be useful not only in getting to a target quickly, but also in getting away from a target quickly. In PvE, it would reduce the impact for Mutilate specs not having Camouflage, and for all specs not having Fleet Footed. And of course, whenever you happen to just be running around unmounted, Blink enables you to cut your travel time by a substantial amount.
Now good luck convincing Blizzard to give it to us. :)
I want to thank Vulajin for his time and answers. For those Rogues looking for more information about his work, check out his stickies at the EJ forums. While you're there, check out some of the other great posts regarding the State of the Rogue in WotLK.