Blizzard announced last week that the mod known as Augmented Virtual Reality will be broken and non-functional as of the release of patch 3.3.5. We'll get into some of the details here in a second or three, but this officially means that if you're using AVR to work on Icecrown Citadel, you're officially using a mod or method in a way that Blizzard does not intend. It doesn't mean you're exploiting or cheating, necessarily, but it does mean that you're not quite straight-shooting the encounters the way the game is meant to be played. Your mileage may vary on whether you care.
If you're not familiar with AVR or AVR Encounters, it's probably fairly important for you to understand the mods for the context of this conversation. AVR, at its base, lets you draw stuff on the screen. These drawings will be seen by everyone else in the raid. Even more importantly, the combination of mods has the ability to draw stuff for you. If you're going to emanate a 10-yard circle of death around you in the next seven seconds, AVR will draw a 10-yard circle around you that everyone can see. Plenty of warning, ample visibility. Why does it matter?
Popular wisdom is that AVR made raiding a joke. While I'm admittedly biased in that I've never felt like I have much trouble not standing in fire, AVR made every piece of raid positioning absolutely crystal clear. Positioning, dance steps, radius effects, spawn locations and every other even slightly vague piece of screen activity could be drawn, detailed, organized and displayed. Individual decision-making was rendered irrelevant; your raid leader could draw a little X on the ground, and your job was to stand on the X.
Don't get me wrong. Sites like WoW.com and Tankspot do their best to inform players about strategies, positioning and boss fights. But AVR and AVRE took that whole dynamic to a higher level. It was at once awesome and completely crazy. All the guess work was taken out of range and reaction time.
Why did Blizzard ban the mod? According to Blizzard CM Bashiok, it's because of the reasons I listed above. Bashiok mentions that it interacts with the game world itself, but it seems obvious the meat of the answer is that AVR "removes too much player reaction and decision-making while facing dungeon and raid encounters."
I'm a little curious about the idea that AVR removes player reaction, since I think that's usually the province of mods like Deadly Boss Mods. I can't imagine getting through half the Wrath boss fights without DBM's timers, raid warning and various bells and whistles. But if I didn't know the timing of fight events, I don't see AVR being such a game-breaking mod. Sure, I know that it will be my job -- some time during this fight -- to stand in that circle, but I wouldn't have a timer counting down to tell me exactly when the boss was going to use the Ability of Doom.
And while I'm inclined to nitpick about whether AVR is really the only mod that reduces the requisite player reaction and decision-making, I still support the idea that AVR is a little over the top. I just suspect that if I weren't already used to boss mods, I'd have the same feelings about that group of addons. But this is just a case where I trust the line that it's Blizzard game and their call.
But there are definitely some things about AVR that will hopefully inform raid encounter design going forward.
First, while we can easily figure out that abilities affect a certain radius area, based on in-game yards, it is not intuitive or easy to sort out how much distance those yards actually are when you're playing. It's obviously not a real "yard," as I've never seen even a single monitor that's so much as "one yard big." It's a scale, but when you're trying to figure out "Is this far enough away from my teammate?", guesstimating something that's not a real-world concept is a pain in the neck. You'll get it wrong more often than you'll get it right.
We'll never see the abolition of area effects, of course, and I don't know how you could design a game without the concept of range. But if area effect spells are so powerful that having a single bad range call could cause a raid wipe (like Sindragosa's Ice Tomb), then it should have a visual effect of its own before the spell wipes the raid.
This principle of range sensitivity also extends to other chaining effects. If being too close together is a problem in a boss fight due to things like Blood Nova, then there again needs to be a way to see that range. Mods like DBM have range meters, but sorting out ranges in 25-man raids makes herding cats look pleasant and organized.
The next thing I think we say with AVR is that there needs to be a better in-game mechanism for explaining fight locations. Most rooms have some kind of vague visual marker, but saying "stand on the skull" is pretty meaningless in Icecrown Citadel. If you try and mark a location with a flare, you're likely to pull the boss. Positioning and dance steps have become fairly convoluted by the end of the expansion, and they're just plain impossible to easily explain nowadays.
Note that these issues I'm talking about aren't related to decision-making. I feel that there should be hard decisions when raiding: "Save the DPS or save the tank?" for example, or "Should I risk taking this damage?" The opportunities are limitless. But an important foundation of decision-making is that you have the necessary information in order to form an opinion and act against that opinion. Right now, in raiding, it feels like you spend as much time flailing around, just trying to figure out what's going on.
In the end, AVR's biggest benefit is that it let you cut through the visual clutter of spell effects, particles and even players to see exactly the most relevant information that wasn't always displayed. AVR definitely felt like it made raiding too easy, but I hope that Cataclysm makes these kind of "necessary" tools obsolete instead of just forbidden.
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