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Some men are born posthumously. ~Nietzsche

Archive for October, 2009

Gear Resets and Checkpointing

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2009

When dealing with class balance issues, Ghostcrawler is fond of the phrase “all other things being equal,” but they never really are. That’s actually the point of progression, to move across the equality gap from those who wipe to those who kill. We all want to be in the group that kills enemies, but we don’t want everyone to be in that group or it means that the content is easy enough that we haven’t accomplished anything. That isn’t from an elitist perspective. I’m not a hardcore progression raider myself, and my guild still wipes on “easy” content. Sadly, at this point I still expect half the raid to die on Heigan during a Naxx10 run (though we won’t wipe on the fight). There  has to be some kind of reward to justify effort (basic human nature).

Some people look to gear as a reward. Some people like to experience the content. Some people just like performing a social activity with friends. There’s the thrill of (virtual) conquest, proving yourself against competitors, etc. We all have our own reasons for venturing out at all, but we won’t be out there fighting if we don’t see some kind of reward. For the reward to have value, it must be earned. For it to feel earned, there must have been a challenge involved. For there to be a challenge, there must be evidence that someone else has not attained the reward. For social rewards, the fact that people want to play with you and not others is reward enough. It doesn’t matter if your gear isn’t as good, or if you haven’t seen all the content. For progression raiders, downing content that others can’t is the reward, even if you have to partner up with the anti-social dregs of MMO society. Everyone chooses their own reward, and feel satisfied when they achieve it, even if it isn’t what they are expected to want. That’s why wanting something that not everyone else has isn’t really elitist. We all want that, but the “something” in the equation is not always the same, so the people who don’t have it, don’t necessarily miss it. We can all feel superior about something, without requiring others to feel inferior for their lack.

At the center of the storm over content tuning is always the gear debate. Gear is a reward, a trophy, a tool, and sometimes a weight around your neck. It had a status associated with it in olden times in Azeroth, because good gear was difficult to obtain, and very bad gear abounded (spirit on a warrior set? that drops in a dungeon?). Getting gear gave status. It also checkpointed your progress. If you didn’t have the gear, you simply couldn’t advance. That meant that gear wasn’t simply some one’s focus, it mattered to everyone on some level. Some people haven’t yet adapted to the changes that have happened since those days.

With the coming of TBC, Blizzard made a decision. They actually wanted people to see the content they worked so hard on. That meant it had to be accessable. Basic MMO theory requires you to checkpoint content however, so that people will have to spend time playing to get through it. Their initial offering was the badge system, with better and better offerings over time, so that if you missed out on (or couldn’t handle) the raid earlier, you get handed better gear to catch you up and get you in to see content. You still have to grind to get it, but it’s running easier content repeatedly rather than wiping until you get drops. Progression raiders have to raid the content at its hardest to open the next tier earlier than anyone else, but eventually others have a route to catch up and see it too before it’s gone. That keeps the raiders raiding to stay at the bleeding edge, and more casual players grinding to catch up when the opportunity presents itself.

They made a second change however that complicates the matter. They changed how they design encounters to make them move involved. There’s more to do, with more specialized roles within the raid. You might still be a dps, but now you’re also designated to click a cube at the proper time, or kill a certain type of add at the correct time and place. They also reduced raid sizes so there’s less room for error. As a result, raids have stopped being checkpointed checkpointed by gear, and become checkpointed by “skill.” I put that in quotes because skill isn’t a monolithic quality. There are many skills involved in any fight, and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. People with skill in some areas still struggle with certain fights, or raiding in general.

And despite gear resets and how easy it is to get gear, it doesn’t help anymore. Blizzard’s strategy to get people to see content is compromised by the content itself. Don’t believe me? Gevlon put together a crew that raided Ulduar in all blue gear. I know people in our guild that struggle in Ulduar 10 with badge gear comparable to Ulduar 25 or ToC. Think that Heigan reference above was incidental? There is no way to outgear the dance. None. You either learn it or you die, and that’s only the most obvious case. Some fights let you get by with a few people underperforming, but for the most part, if you want to down bosses, you have to learn to play. Gear resets and procurement options haven’t made raiding accessible, because they no longer can. Variations in skill affect outcomes far more than variations in gear.

Gear just doesn’t matter as much anymore. The easy of obtaining it may make those angry that view it as the reward for their efforts, but the irrelevance is also starting to irritate raiders who view their efforts as opening up the content. Not only can you get to the content without putting in the wipes anymore, the wipes and gear grind aren’t really doing all that much to help you get through the new content either. Hard modes are an invitation to face a greater challenge for better gear, but the better gear really isn’t needed anyway. That makes the effort pointless unless your personal reward is to beat challenges that no one else can. If that’s not your bag, then you may as well skip it and do the “easy” normal mode a couple times, get bored, and quit.

There’s a more insidious side yet though. Remember those who can get gear just by grinding the easy heroics? All that grinding gets them epic gear, but doesn’t offer comparable training for high end content. Gear resets help those who have developed the skills to catch up quickly after a break, or gear alts, but all that gear won’t get those who struggled with appropriate level gear through the content. The badge grind is a waste of time for those people. Worse yet, they think they should be able to handle the harder content because they have the gear for it, so they wipe endlessly against an “easy” fight because they’re out of their league no matter what their gear says. I’ve seen it happen. The gear reset is a red herring. It deludes people into chasing gear when they really need experience. Right now the game doesn’t care much what your gear looks like (within reason). If you know what you’re doing, the gear will come quickly enough. If you’re struggling, all the upgrades in the world won’t help much.

There’s been a lot of discussion about gear resets lately, but very little about the current relation of gear to progression. If we’re going to have gear resets to get people into content, gear has to matter enough to be a checkpoint, so that the reset actually matters. That’s not where we are yet. Cataclysm has the opportunity to change that (as I alluded to with the potential for boss expertise), but it requires a conscious decision by Blizzard to have gear negate skill, so that seeing content when it drops requires a very skilled group, but seeing it after a reset can be done with gear upgrades. That would mean bringing the “M&S” closer to the performance of skilled players than some may like, and exacerbate the effect of gear differences on pvp combat. I’m not necessarily advocating the changes, but if that’s not what Blizzard intends to do, then gear resets are pointless anyway.

If they do want to keep the current system, where skill trumps gear, what line should they walk? If they want to balance gearing up alts and newcomers to match their skill level with putting people into appropriate raid based on their experience, Wrath launched with almost the perfect system. The tiered badges was a good idea, but Blizzard made a slight mistake with it. Badges should drop that buy gear a tier higher than the drops themselves. For example, they could have dropper iLevel 200 gear in heroics, 213 in Naxx, 226 in Ulduar, but made Heroic badges buy 213 gear, Naxx badges buy 226 gear, etc. The net effect would allow skilled players (newcomers or alts) to catch up faster (because the badges for your current run level buys gear for a raid two levels higher), allow less skilled players to get a small edge in gearing for the raids they’re ready to run to ease them into raiding, and the system is sustainable with no true gear resets to obsolete your efforts overnight.

It’s Blizzards game, and it’s their design decision. They have options, but they will have to address the system eventually, because the current model has problems, and makes less and less sense as the game continues.

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Chill of the Throne

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2009

So for all the talk about avoiding another Sunwell Radiance style debuff in Wrath, Blizzard just announce that Icecrown Citidel will have one. For the most part, I’m glad it will. I spend most of my time healing, and nothing irritates me more than having bosses kill tanks in 2 hits. Nothing like looking back at the logs and seeing a tank go from 100% health to dead in 1.5 seconds. I also don’t like spamming my biggest heal all the time, even if my Paladin healers are among the best prepared to do so. Most of us understood, long before the Dev conceded the point, that the problem lies with high avoidance. Tanks are supposed to take damage, and we’re supposed to heal it. The more often the boss misses, the more damage he needs to do when he does land a hit. That’s fine with a sufficient heath buffer, but health pools haven’t scaled nearly as much as damage has in Wrath, so the buffer for the big hits is gone. So either they needed to buff tank health tremendously (and risk a pvp imbalance that some of could care less about), or they needed to nerf avoidance and have fewer, smaller hits. They chose the nerf. If that makes for more predictable, more managable damage, I’m all for it. There may be some balance issues between classes, as I’ve noticed my Paladin’s avoidance scaling better than my Druid’s (currently the Paladin leads by ~10% with slightly worse gear). The Druid should benefit from a slight armor advantage to offset this, but I’m not sure he does anymore with all the nerfs that have come down the line.

While it’s evidence of poor planning, it does foreshadow the future of tanking after Wrath in Cataclysm. A few days ago they began to speculate on the Cataclysm tanking changes over at World of Raids. Something I missed is that removing defense from gear also removes avoidance. I should have realized that sooner, since I’m in the habit of adding the ~5% miss boost my Paladin gets from defense that my Druid does not when comparing stats. Ghostcrawler has also been talking about adding expertise to bosses, so that your avoidance scales downward as you go to higher grade raids (i.e. the additional avoidance you get each tier is offset by increased boss expertise). That means that tanks will be treading water on avoidance, scrambling each tier just to get upgraded avoidance … so they can get hit just as much as before. That would let Blizzard smooth out the damage spikes though, without resorting to a last minute debuff that wipes out a good chunk all at once. It would also restore the relevance of gear to the game (but more about that in a later post).

A lot of the Mastery information discussed in the article can only be speculation at this point, but it does make sense to replace non-scaling stats (+def rating, +hit rating) with a stat that doesn’t cap and can scale with gear (Mastery). Until we actually get to see Mastery in action though, I don’t think there’s much that can be said about it.

Lastly they mentioned the block changes. Changing block from a value to a percentage is something I have mixed feelings about. They had a choice here. The current system is broken because the tanks that block have a flat damage reduction from it, while those that don’t get a scaling damage reduction. There were two ways they could go to fix this. They could either give a flat damage reduction to all tanks in some form (and they did this for Druids with Savage Defense) or they could move block to a scaling damage reduction (as it looks like they will for Cataclysm). The benefit of the former option is that they gain more control over increases in damage reduction. If the bosses in the next raid hit for 2k more per hit, you can just add 1k to the tank’s block, and count on the healer to 1k more out of their gear. The math is a lot simpler. Apparently concern over trash mobs makes too much block too powerful, and Blizzard decided to go the other way and make it all scaling. So block will become the equivalent of an occasional armor boost. Non-blocking tanks (hopefully Druids too and not just DKs), will likely get a slight armor advantage that sits midway between the hit and block amounts.

Overall, the changes for 3.3 and on into Cataclysm might be a bit demoralizing for tanks that get to watch their stats drop and lose some of their power on packs of mobs out in the world, but it’s better for the healers, and good for the game at large.

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alt.update

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2009

Since I posted the healer comparison, not having the priest in it has gotten to me and I’ve been on another leveling binge. It still stuns even me that with the server maximum of 10 toons, my lowest level is now 47. By level 47, my first toon (Turla) had gazed upon the stronghold of his enemy at Orgrimmar (level 25), held his first epic (level 40 – summoned by the Mithril Order trinket) and had discovered his true calling (tanking – the revelation coming while tanking Sunken Temple at 50 with Avenger’s Shield). Ahlora has, well, leveled to 47. It seems like a bit of a letdown, but there are some experiences you just can’t repeat. I’ll never again be able to walk into Feralas from Desolace for the first time again, or have my first griffin ride again. But then, every toon I’ve leveled goes through various phases, where I figure out new abilities, new rotations, or have to retire old strategies that haven’t kept up. So I thought I would post an update of my latest leveling experiences.

Ahlora

My Warrior and lowbie on Velen, at level 47. She started with the gold, heirlooms, and experience of someone with multiple 80s, but there’s always a catch. I knew from the beginning that my wild Fury warrior would struggle with the lack of +hit gear at lower levels. Missing a lot begins a bad spiral where you not only lose the damage from the miss, but you also get starved for rage and lose your special attacks as well. Warriors need to hit their enemies. I’d already made a beeline down to the 3% hit boost talent, but it wasn’t working the miracles I needed.

Miracles do happen though. It started when I put in a little time in the city working on her blacksmithing to get her some plate gear, since she can wear it now. Doing so I spotted the nice dps plate gloves, and started thinking about if it would be worth making them. That hung at the back of my mind. Then I went out to collect candy buckets.

I made an easy level doing nothing more than flying around Azeroth, mostly afk time, while I did some reading on the internet. I came across an article on warriors that was mostly on Whirlwind (which I don’t have yet but I’m familiar with in principle), but mentioned something that caught my eye, “instant slams”. Slam is an ability that I got while leveling but never use, because it has a cast time. As a seasoned paladin, I know all the bad things that happen when you cast anything with a cast time in melee combat. Having them instant (and not replacing your regular attack like Heroic Strike so you build rage better) would be very hot. So I started digging down through the talent tree while I collected candy buckets. It’s down far enough that I can’t get it yet, but it has a chance to proc on Heroic Strike, Whirlwind, and Bloodthirst. So I went looking for Bloodthirst.

I found it in the tree, within reach with a respec. It’s an instant strike (woot!) that does damage, and causes your next 3 attacks to regen 1% of your max health each. I’m a big fan of anything that gives you a little heath back. It’s way out of your core function in a dungeon most of the time, but it’s great for reducing downtime, and I’m all about reducing downtime when I’m leveling. I was pretty stoked. It cost 20 rage though, which is a lot for a low hit fury warrior. I went looking for a talent or glyph that might reduce it.

I did find a glyph, but it didn’t reduce the cost. It doubled the healing. That’s way cool. I just had to find a solution to my hit problem. About that time, I finished collecting candy, and looked in my bags. There it was, staring me in the face. Chewy Fel Taffy. Adds +5 to hit, and stacks up to 4 times. There was the hit rating I needed to make the stretch. Added to my elixer (+10), and my lowly +4 hit ring, and I was up to about a 4-5% boost. And then I remembered the gloves, which required level 40, and would therefor take a TBC enchant, like the +15 to hit enchant.

Taken all together, my new improved Bloodthirsty Fury machine went out and smoked the mobs. She went from kill to kill cutting down enemies like a knife through warm butter. I finally parked her when she ran out of rested state, after 4 levels of glorious slaughter. The candy is limited in supply, but by the time it expires or it runs out, she’ll be 49 and can equip the +24 hit trinket to make up for it. Soon enough she’ll be in Outland where she can get actual +hit gear, and gear with sockets that will happily take LK hit/expertise gems. =)

Valruan

My priest and last healer to climb the leveling ladder. I’d slowed down on questing with him, as I was starting to get the occasional alt runs with a guildie who recent transfered over a Protection Paladin of similar level. Questing as shadow isn’t bad once you get into the 40s, but healing dungeons is still more fun, and gets better gear (aside from the heirlooms of course). I did get a chance to dps a run as shadow during that time, and hated it. No shadow AoE made trash a burden, and his mana regen wasn’t keeping up well either. I did well enough on boss fights, but most of the time I felt like I couldn’t really pull my own weight, and went back to healing on runs.

After posting though, I hopped back into shadow spec and did some questing. Between dungeons and questing, he climbed through Outland, started into Northrend, and has now hit 70. In the process, he’s also gotten more of his healing toolkit, and I’m starting to get a feel for how it goes. I haven’t tried any Northrend dungeons yet, so I won’t comment on healing quiet yet, but I’m not feeling the small toolkit blues anymore. He’s also parked for the time being, having run out of rested state. When he gets some rested state back, he’ll be ready with his epic flyer and most of Northrend left in front of him (doing half of Borean Tundra took him from 68-70).

Ugart

My Warlock has been in a strange limbo most of his life where I figure out all the cool things I can do with him, then park him the shed and don’t do them. The class is pure crazy with all the stuff going on, and I probably made more changes to his play than any other toon as he leveled. I went from fear kiting the early levels, to having my minion tank my teens and twenties, to drain tanking from the thirties through the sixties (with more dots and more power the whole way). In Northrend I dual specced a demonology spec and discovered I could run him just like a hunter, except without buying ammo, and without healing him most of the time. Now he has enough talent points to have his Felguard tank two while he drain tanks a third. I partnered with a guild hunter in Zul’Drak today, and I watched her health drop slowly every time she took on a mob herself (she’s MM and her pet just can’t hold agg), while I’d dot one up for my pet and move on without looking back. With her extra dps, I’d dot one up for my pet, dot another one up, then move my pet over (since he had enough agg to hold the 1st one for the few seconds it had left to live), and move on, repeating the process. It was literally chain pulling. I didn’t bother staying for the kill, just pulled and pulled.

That said, for as fun as he is, he’s a dps class, and I never get to dps in group content anyway. Even when I do, I usually get bored once I get the rotation down. It isn’t as challenging as tanking or healing and can’t hold my attention for as long. With my Priest and Warrior resting up, I sent my heirlooms back over and worked on him anyway, but he’s just never going to be a priority.

He’s been idling at 74-75ish for a while, and now he’s climbed up to 78. 77-78 are hard levels, not content wise, but it’s the stretch where you can see the end, but it’s painfully just out of reach. Literally nine times out of ten when I hit the cap (4 times at 70, and 5 out of 6 times at 80) I hit cap the same session where I hit cap-1 level. Seeing the end of my XP bar just does something for me that gets me through no matter how long the levels were before it. I’m almost there on my Warlock, and I’ve hit it earlier than ever. As more heirloom gear is introduced, the XP boost makes zones give more and more, and I get further and further ahead of the expected level. I hit 78 in Shalozar Basin on my first couple 80s. Now I’m 78 on Ugart and not done with Zul’Drak yet. I might hit 80 in Shalozar at this rate.

I might keep questing for the enchant mats (he’s my oldest, but 3rd highest enchanter out of 4), but he’ll likely never see the inside of a heroic or raid. Sad, but for as many alts as you can level, there’s only so many you can gear up and actually use.

Korus hasn’t moved an inch. He’s a hair shy of 62, but he’s just so squishy that it’s hard to get excited about questing where you might be stuck in close quarters combat. Mages require space to operate like no other class does. He’ll level again eventually, but as a dps class, a squishy, and competing against other projects, it may be quite a while before I can find any time for him.

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Am I good tank or a bad healer?

Posted by penuruloki on October 21, 2009

Last night I got to tank in our 10 man Ulduar run. The only time I’ve ever gotten to tank in Ulduar before was on Razorscale. I’d been on all the boss fights we faced last night on previous runs, but always as a healer. My first toon was a tank from the first talent point I spent, so getting to step back into tanking on fights that still challenge the guild, even for just a night, was an exciting opportunity. I haven’t gotten to tank consistently since our first guild heroics last December.

And we did pretty damn good. We dropped five bosses in two and a half hours, with no wipes (we did have some downtime from bios and afks). After all the wipes I’ve healed when we’ve tried to do Ignis on prior runs, Geofon and I tanked it for the first time (it was the first time she faced him at all), and we dropped him in one go. We only had one death on the fight at all (Warlock in the slag pot). Last week it took 2 tries each to drop XT, Razorscale and Ignis, and 3 tries to drop Kologarn. This week we dropped them all on the first try, and with lesser geared tanks and healers too.

That begs the question, why are we struggling so much on our other runs? Certainly we had top notch dps last night, and that always helps. Low dps causes more problems than people realize. Most people place all the credit/blame with tanks and healers and ignore the problems of longer fights or shorting the group on healers to compensate for low dps. That said, you do have to look at tanking and healing, and I have two reasons for being suspicious of our performances there.

First, although we have a lot of tanks (half the raid had a tanking spec/set last Sat!), we don’t have stable assignments. We switch tanks a lot, and it’s hard not to notice differences in results (sometimes dramatic) when we do. A big problem on our raid last Saturday was tank deaths. Some of this was tanking assignments not being clear or not being followed well enough. Aside from that major problem, the stats also showed a significant difference in damage taken over the other tanks we’ve had on that fight (about 3k-5k more per hit, and not avoiding nearly as often), for reasons I still haven’t completely settled. The tank in question is not unskilled, but he was consistently taking more damage than I could handle for an extended duration of time. Being able to compare performances, there clearly had to be an issue with that tank (on that night anyway). Right? Apparently not all tanks are created equal, and not being a bad tank doesn’t make you a great tank. Or maybe not being bad is good enough?

Am I a problem as a healer? I’ve gotten used to being complimented on my healing, going all the way back to the days of off-spec healing in leveling dungeons, but how sincere are the compliments, and what am I being compared to? I’ve given my own reasons for healing, but someone else gave their view over at World of Matticus recently, and in both the article itself and the comments that followed, “I’m good at it” seems to be a prominent reason. How do they know they’re good? They know because people tell them. People tell them because they drop bosses and get loot. But is that really the full story? Two things can make you above average: you can be really good compared to others, or they can be really bad compared to you. Considering that healing is probably the hardest job in the game, and gets harder or easier based on the quality of the rest of the group more than the fight itself, it’s entirely possible that the average healer really isn’t very good. It’s also possible that healers that are merely average get thanked and complimented just to keep them healing so that people can get runs. Like tanking, the question becomes, does merely not being bad make you good?

Add to all this that I still haven’t been in on an Assembly of Iron or Freya kill (they were dropped on runs when I wasn’t there), and I’m left to wonder if I’m really all that great at healing after all. Certainly I’m not a bad healer, but maybe I’m only mediocre, despite compliments.

So given the stark contrast of last night to prior runs, what conclusions do I draw? Do I assume our tanks aren’t as good as I thought they were? Are we letting low dps sabotage our efforts too much? Or are our regular healers (including myself) overrated and not up to the challenge? Am I a good tank or a bad healer? Or is my contribution to success really not all that significant altogether?

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Maximum Wages?

Posted by penuruloki on October 20, 2009

I’m not the only one with an eclectic posting habit. Tobold, posting on his MMO blog site, brought up the topic of fair distribution of profits, citing a Wall Street Journal article drawing attention to the compensation that bankers have been receiving in the wake of the banking crisis. The problem with the article isn’t his contention (that banker compensation seems more generous than other professionals receive), it’s with his conclusion:

But what really makes many people angry is that while bankers get so much more money than other employees, a lot of other people actually lost a lot of money to the banks. If you bought bank shares in early 2007, you probably lost most if not all of your investment. And then many banks got propped up with taxpayer money. That all looks like paying somebody else to play in a casino for you, with him keeping a good part of the winnings if he wins, and you still having to pay him a lot if he loses.

So while there is a lot to be said against the state dictating how much people should earn, I do think that both minimum wages and maximum wages have some justification as long as they aren’t too restrictive, and are just designed to prevent the worst cases of excess.

This kind of proposition always starts with “the worst cases of excess,” but if you give people a hammer, they start seeing nails. Pretty soon wage caps abound in an attempt to even out pay scales, and the winners and losers become determined by political contest rather than being linked to actual production. Once you decide that appropriate pay level is a political question, every future move down that road is a matter of degree. No, the limited government controls on compensation is a good thing, and not the problem at issue here.

Guess what? In that quote above, Tobold even catches the real problem. Let’s zoom in on that quote a little [emphasis mine]:

And then many banks got propped up with taxpayer money. That all looks like paying somebody else to play in a casino for you, with him keeping a good part of the winnings if he wins, and you still having to pay him a lot if he loses.

The problem is that people have already confounded economics with politics. If the banks had been allowed to fail, the bankers would have been out on the street competing with each other for lower compensation, just like everyone who wasn’t saved by a bailout. The “excessive” compensation is a result of past political meddling, not an excuse for more. People should be reflecting on the damage already done by the government throwing its weight around in the business sphere, not looking for more easy answers from politicians.

I realize it’s easy for me to talk tough about letting those companies fail, since it isn’t my house or my job, but guess what? I know more people that lost their home anyway than I know people who benefited from all the stimulus and bailout money. Anecdotal sure, but there’s a reason why bad businesses have to fail. If you prop them up, then bad business practices continue, market corrections are not made, your economy suffers, and it drags down everyone without the connections to get preferential treatment. If the figures on the WSJ page offend you, blame the politicians for spending your money to prop up that segment. Don’t encourage them to make things worse.

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The Retreat Dividend

Posted by penuruloki on October 13, 2009

Charles Krauthammer has a new piece in the Weekly Standard that is, quite frankly, an amazing read to understand what is before us down the road the liberals are taking us. As he says, Decline is a Choice. And the agenda of the liberals in charge is exactly to choose decline over renewal.

It seems like a harsh charge. Calling the opposition “anti-American” is an easy slur, used by both Conservatives when Bush was in office trying to win support for the war in Iraq, and now by Liberals with Obama in office trying to push through significant changes in the American economy and Health Care system. The reality is more nuanced. The reality is that liberals are pursuing an agenda of reduced American influence in the world, and declining economic preeminence, while conservatives push for a more dynamic, open domestic environment and a foreign policy deliberately designed to secure a stable world system. Neither one is a direct assault on America per se, but an attempt to remodel America to match their vision. The liberal vision however, depends on the decline of American power and influence.

[T]he ultimate purpose of [New Liberalism’s] foreign policy is to make America less hegemonic, less arrogant, less dominant.In a word, it is a foreign policy designed to produce American decline–to make America essentially one nation among many. And for that purpose, its domestic policies are perfectly complementary.

Domestic policy, of course, is not designed to curb our power abroad. But what it lacks in intent, it makes up in effect. Decline will be an unintended, but powerful, side effect of the New Liberalism’s ambition of moving America from its traditional dynamic individualism to the more equitable but static model of European social democracy.

This is not the place to debate the intrinsic merits of the social democratic versus the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism. There’s much to be said for the decency and relative equity of social democracy. But it comes at a cost: diminished social mobility, higher unemployment, less innovation, less dynamism and creative destruction, less overall economic growth.

Liberals want to trade our current incarnation for one modeled on Western Europe. The first question is “Do we want to be like Europe?” Certainly we all have different answers, depending on our own situation and the particular trait we’re looking at. “Free” health care sounds great to some. Others don’t like the sound of having hired goons going around checking our trash bins to make sure we’re recycling. We don’t necessarily get to pick and choose what we want. It tends to come as a package deal. The second question has to be “What is it going to cost us?”

There is always a cost. Economics refers to “opportunity cost,” the value of the next most desirable alternative. Cost can sometimes be measured in monetary terms, but money is not always the next most desired option. Regardless, there is always some alternative that is forsaken to get anything. The next most desirable alternative is this case is most obviously what we have now.

Growth provides the sinews of dominance–the ability to maintain a large military establishment capable of projecting power to all corners of the earth. The Europeans, rich and developed, have almost no such capacity. They made the choice long ago to devote their resources to a vast welfare state. Their expenditures on defense are minimal, as are their consequent military capacities.

I can’t put it in better terms than Krauthammer does. Heed these words well:

There is no free lunch. Social democracy and its attendant goods may be highly desirable, but they have their price–a price that will be exacted on the dollar, on our primacy in space, on missile defense, on energy security, and on our military capacities and future power projection.

But, of course, if one’s foreign policy is to reject the very notion of international primacy in the first place, a domestic agenda that takes away the resources to maintain such primacy is perfectly complementary. Indeed, the two are synergistic. Renunciation of primacy abroad provides the added resources for more social goods at home. To put it in the language of the 1990s, the expanded domestic agenda is fed by a peace dividend–except that in the absence of peace, it is a retreat dividend.

And there’s the rub. For the Europeans there really is a peace dividend, because we provide the peace. They can afford social democracy without the capacity to defend themselves because they can always depend on the United States.

So why not us as well? Because what for Europe is decadence–decline, in both comfort and relative safety–is for us mere denial. Europe can eat, drink, and be merry for America protects her. But for America it’s different. If we choose the life of ease, who stands guard for us?

This is not a new struggle. This has been the struggle of the conservative movement against the liberal movement of the past half century. In the words of the late great Ronald Reagan, spoken during the campaign of 1964:

Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.” And the Cuban stopped and said, “How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.” And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.

The promises of the liberals, on health care, the economy, their foreign policy, are all based on a lie. They are trying to promise the security and comfort of Europe, when we’re the ones footing the bill for their security right now. If we stop picking up the tab for maintaining the world system, who’s going to step up to the plate?

Make no mistake, someone will come forward, but not to fill the same role the US does now. Regardless of our decision to abandon our leading role in the world or to defend it, there is always a power in the world striving to contest the power of the current hegemon with an eye toward remaking the global system to suit their vision. The international institutions that form the basis for international relations are all a product of hegemonic power, first of the British Empire, and since WWII a product of US power and design. The UN, NATO, the World Bank, etc. that institutionalize foreign relations are all a product of US hegemony, not an independent successor if we should step away. They are an incarnation of US power, not a power source. The League of Nations failed precisely because every entity in the world that had some power to make it work either abandoned it (as the US did) or challenged it (as Germany and Japan did). The previous hegemon (Britain) was in rapid decline and either would not, or could not order or enforce world system. The breakdown of the 1930s happened largely because of a refusal of those with power to play a constructive role in the world.

The world system authored by the US in the wake of WWII, and modified to suit the needs of the Cold War, represented a departure from the world system authored by Britain. Britain and other American allies (the “First World”) endorsed the new system designed by the US and lent it additional power. Those who challenged it (mainly the “Second World” of the communists) never achieved the power to supplant it with their own design. If the US steps back, and abandons their dominant role in the world, we can not assume that our allies will increase their contributions to maintain the status quo. If that was their intent, they have had ample opportunities to contribute already, but their contributions are diminishing instead as their power diminishes, traded away for comforts. If the US is supplanted as hegemon, we certainly can not assume that our successor will endorse a similar system to the one that currently operates. There may emerge a new dominant power with a radically different vision of global order (China and Russia would be the current leading contenders here). We could also enter a new era of instability as contenders move to fill a perceived power vacuum, as an echo of the situation in the inter-war period that culminated in WWII and the Cold War.

The suggestion that we can step aside, reduce our role in securing and ordering the world, and somehow collect a financial windfall to support a European style welfare state is an outright LIE. Europe could only do it with the US provided security, and a US structured world system. Who would provide security for us to do the same? Try to find a global entity with the will to power and sympathies toward the current system. If you disregard the US (which may or may not have the will at this point), there exists no such thing.

All of this brings us back to Voegeli’s Claremont article I referenced in June. To reiterate:

The danger liberalism poses to the American experiment comes from its disposition to deplete rather than replenish the capital required for self-government.

The liberal program isn’t simply an attempt to redirect or redistribute a vast quantity of wealth in America toward an unproven social experiment. It’s an attempt to deplete exactly the capital that has supported the freedom and prosperity of western civilization. This is the political struggle of today, to determine the shape of the world tomorrow. Keep it well in mind next time you have a chance to weigh in.

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Healer Comparison

Posted by penuruloki on October 10, 2009

This is the first of my class comparisons I intended to do as my personal project in WoW, and that I promised to write in my last post. My healers at the level cap all have comparable gear, and I have reasonable time healing 10 man raids and heroics on all of them. I intend to write about tanks too, but I’d like more time and better gear on my DK before I do so, so I’m starting with a comparison of my healers. This is from my personal perspective, not based on meters or spreadsheets. It is all my own opinion and I welcome comments and rebuttals from those with different viewpoints. I don’t pretend that any of it is definitive.

Long Post ahead.

Before I start talking about classes, I need to discuss a little bit about healing theory (at least from my viewpoint). Healers don’t really have spells to be compared against each other. They have different “toolkits”, or abilities that healers combine to perform a “task.” An example of a task might be tank healing or raid healing, the most common two listed (never forget that there might be more to do! My Resto Shaman managed 90% of the interrupts on one ill-fated Assembly of Iron attempt). A toolkit for tank healing might be a “small heal toolkit”, built around supplementing a steady diet of a smaller, faster heal in the spellbook, or a “large heal toolkit”, built around making heavier use of a larger, slower, more expensive heal. Raid healing is primarily focused around “AoE healing” where you apply smaller amounts of healing to many raid members at once, and “spot healing” where you apply more small to moderate amounts of healing to selected members of a raid. Direct comparisons of spells don’t really matter. It’s all about how (and how well) you accomplish the tasks assigned to you, and the quality of your toolkit to perform the task.

Paladins

I have to start with Paladins. My main is a Pally, I started healing on a Pally, and I have the most hours in on my Pallies (they are my #1 and #2 /played toons individually, nevermind combined playtime). Fact is they are clunky. They have limited healing options that amount to selecting between a small hammer and a big hammer. No AoE healing at all makes them extremely limited at raid healing. This isn’t an accident. They are specifically designed and designated to be tank healers.

Their toolkit is a mixed bag for even that. They have the most efficient small heal in the game, Flash of Light. It’s got good scaling, but starts, and stays, very small compared to other healers’ small heals. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t get much help. You can throw Sacred Shield (an absorbent shield that absorbs small amounts over a longer duration) on only 1 target at a time. Flash of Light on the target with SS places a Heal-over-Time (HoT) spell on that target that’s based on the size of the FoL (and is therefore also very small). That’s pretty much it for the small heal toolkit. It’ll cover 5 man tanking and raid fights that are less tank focused, but it just won’t cover all your tank healing needs. Fortunately, for the large heal toolkit, Blizzard pulled out the stops. Holy Light is expensive (all the big heals are), but it’s also fast, especially when you chain it. More importantly, Paladins have the best toolkit to generate the mana to keep throwing it. Divine Plea cuts healing in half while it’s active (15s) but regenerates 25% of your mana pool on a 1 min cooldown (CD). Seal of Wisdom gives a chance at a hefty chuck of mana when you hit a target (usually around the cost of a HL every time it procs!). Divine Illumination cuts your spell cost in half for a short time (nice to pair with DP above so you can spam HL to keep up without spending everything you regened). Illumination, even after the recent nerf, returns 30% of the mana spent on all heals that crit. What their small toolkit lacks in power is made up for with a powerful large heal and the regen to use it.

Raid healing is likewise a mixed bag. No AoE heal spells at all. They have an AoE effect from Glyph of Holy Light, but that requires you to cast the expensive spell, has strict range requirements, and isn’t smart about picking its targets, so no guarantee that the people who need healing get it. Spot healing is another matter. Beacon of Light has been buffed since its introduction to become a Pally’s signature spell. Simply place the Beacon on one target, and it will produce a “copy” on that target of any heal you throw on any other nearby group member. This gives you the ability to freely apply spot heals on group members without interrupting healing on the tank. It allows you to hit two tanks at once. It also copies heals from up to 60 yards away, while normal heal range is 40 yards. It doubles the raw healing of just about every heal you throw. Beacon has its limits, but it can be very powerful.

Bottom line for Pallies is that they are clunky,wielding their spells like hammers to shove massive amounts of health onto group member. It really shows in 5 man content where you have to make the clunky toolkit cover all scenarios. They work, but they work poorly sometimes and they’re not much fun. They have real power in raids though. Not once, but twice (OS+1 and Ignis) I turned a set of wipes into a kill just by switching to my Pally healer, and then just to get the range and dual target healing boost of Beacon of Light. The raw healing of Beacon + HL may be unmatched, in the healing you can apply, the speed you can apply it, and the speed with which your mana pool plunges when you do it. Pallies usually worry much more about their mana recovery afterward than they do about being able to lay down the healing. Add in all the utility and CD stuff in their spellbook and they shine in raids, especially 10 mans where you have a small core of healers that can balance each other’s weaknesses, but need to be able to produce rapidly in a crisis.

Druids

Druids are famous as HoT healers. Almost every spell they throw is/has a HoT. They are the Neocon healer. It’s all about the preemptive strike. Preempt comes from the latin phrase “to buy beforehand.” That’s exactly what druids do. If damage lands and the target doesn’t already have a HoT on them when it lands, you’re doing it wrong. A lot of the HoTs you throw end up as wasted healing. Their cost and effect is set knowing this, to encourage you to keep throwing them. They are meant to be used liberally. Throw heals around like Dick Cheney would throw around the US arsenal and you’ve got the basic premise.

Their tank healing is all about the small heal toolkit. Their small heal is Nourish, larger that FoL, and only slightly more expensive. Not only do they have a plethora of HoTs to go with Nourish (Rejuv, stacking Lifebloom, the HoT portion of Regrowth, Wild Growth), it even scales upward with the number of HoT effects on the target if you glyph it. The varied and limited duration of the HoTs makes refreshing them all a tricky business sometimes, but in 5 mans, you can stack so many HoTs you can often omit the small heal altogether, and if you’re tank healing in raids you can stay focused on the tank to keep it all going. Large heal is another story. Swiftmend lets you drop a good chunk on a target with a HoT up already (buy beforehand!) on a short CD (15s), but the spamable large heal (Healing Touch) is too slow to be worthwhile (or not a large heal at all if you glyph it for speed). Most druids keep it around coupled to the long CD Nature’s Swiftness (2m CD) as an emergency measure.

Raid Healing is more their forte though. Cheap Rejuvs on individual members, short 6s CD Wild Growth to throw a 7s HoT on 5-6 people with 1 cast, and a reasonable base healing on Nourish for spot healing make them great raid healers. Their utility comes from the ability to throw Innervate on others for mana regen (note that Pally regen is only for themselves), and the ability to Rez a fallen raid member in combat to finish the fight.

The plethora of cheap HoTs makes them good, if busy, 5 man healers and very good raid healers, especially in 25 man raids where they can really focus on the raid. They can handle tank healing, but their limit is on pure Heals-per-Second (HPS) when it hits the fan. They’re better at buffering incoming damage during a long fight than handling damage spikes in a shorter window during the fight, especially on multiple targets. You definitely stay busy on a druid, and the HoTs help maintain control over a fight, but it can be hard to recover on a fight if you’ve lost control. Regen is so good on a druid that they mostly ignore it. They generally can’t spend mana fast enough to worry about draining their pool all that quickly, and their regen covers a pretty reasonable amount.

Shamen

Compared to those two accounts, Shamen are the balanced healers. Better buffering than Paladins (for tanks and raids); better recovery than Druids. Their toolkit is well tuned to handle a variety of situations. They worry about regen like Paladins, but mostly at the gearing level, by stacking MP5 and Crit (for Water Shield). Their only major move for regen during a fight is Mana Tide Totem, restoring 25% of your mana pool, and everyone else in your party, on a 5 min CD.

A good example of their flexibility is their small heal toolkit. Earth Shield offers a buffer for a single target (basically a tank) and also boosts the healing on the small heal (Lesser Healing Wave) when glyphed. It has charges that fire off a small heal when the target is hit. There’s an internal CD on having charges go off, so it ends up being a periodic effect that needs refreshing only occasionally, like the Pally’s SS. They also get Riptide, which offers a small jolt of healing, and has a 15s HoT after it. Works for spot healing, but also provides a HoT for buffering and it works like that on every target, not just the one with ES. They also have procs built in. Any heal has a chance to proc Earthliving, which places another HoT on the target, and all Crit heals place Ancestral Fortitude on the target, reducing incoming damage by 10% for the next 15s. That’s a lot of damage buffering, mostly with little effort, and not all of it limited to a single target like Paladins. LHW itself is again larger than FoL too, but also notable more expensive. The large heal is mostly worthless like the Druid’s, attached to a CD as an emergency and ignored from there.

For raid healing, their iconic heal is Chain Heal. Hits 3-4 targets if they’re group together, giving a moderate heal to the 1st target and tapering off. This is a good recovery heal. In 1-3 casts you can easily clean up moderate damage on the whole group. They also get Healing Stream Totem. Often ignored, it pulses for 300-400 healing every two seconds on all party members. Lasts for up to 5 min. That’s right. If you’re not running around too much, you can can put a 5 min HoT on your party in a 5 man. It’s only about 1/4th what Wild Growth will give you, but it requires a refresh only if you move, something destroys the totem, or 5 mins elapses since you dropped it.

Oh yeah. You drop other buff totems for the raid. They care about that too. And Heroism, the unique shaman buff that boosts raid output (dps and healing) for 45s. I popped it for Loken in Heroic once with Windfury totem down in a group that had me, a Warrior tank, a Hunter, and 2 DKs. We dropped him in 34 seconds. Heroism outlasted the fight by 10 seconds. Add Tremor Totem to remove fears, Cleansing Totem to remove poisons and diseases from the whole (5 person) party at a time; the list goes on. Shaman have great, and unique utility.

Shaman get a bad rep as the most mediocre healer in raids. They may not top meters much in raids, but good recovery healing and flexibility make them valuable. Their biggest worry is their limited mana regen and the cost of their spells, which tends to hover in the same cost territory with no super efficient moves like FoL or Rejuv. Where I love mine most though is in 5 man heroics. On any fight, ES the tank before the fight, drop HST plus your other totems at the beginning of the fight. Riptide the tank as soon as he takes enough damage for his bar to drop (ES may eat the 1st hit on its own). If you get lucky, it’ll crit, you’ll get the 10% damage reduction, and the healing from HST, ES, Riptide, and Earthliving (if it procced) will cover all the damage from the fight. Go make yourself a sandwich. Check back before you mix your drink, in case you need to refresh ES and throw another Riptide on the tank 1st. Healing heroics on a shaman is embarrassingly easy when the group doesn’t screw up. Even when they do, you just start hitting people with Chain Heal until the fight is over. It’s dead simple.

Priest

One day I’ll finally finish leveling my Priest and be able to comment on them. Until then, feel free to leave your perspective in the comments.

Summary

Overall, all the healers work, despite occasional advantages and disadvantages. They work best in raids if you blend them, instead of stack them. That’s a good thing. Their differences show most in 5 man content where you can’t blend. You have to handle it all by yourself. They do each have their own flavor in 10 and 25 man content as well though.

Ultimately, I like all of them enough to stick with them, and I don’t plan to “retire” any of them from healing. They’re all fun. I tend to avoid 25 man raids though, and do mostly 10 man raids and heroics, so that has to affect my preferences.

I can’t argue with the results of bringing my Pally. Either I’m just too experienced with him or he just brings that much to a 10 man raid that I can’t help but keep him as my raiding main. He’s simply missed too much when there is no other Holy Pally in the raid.

For 5 mans, my 1st choice is the Shaman, because they’re just so easy. =) Nothing like facerolling a heroic quick to unwind. My druid is my 2nd choice for 5 mans, and the better option if you start to get bored. Their preemptive nature keeps you busier.

Druids probably shine better in 25 mans where there are lots of targets for WG and Rejuv, but in 10s I tend to miss the raw power of my Pally or Shaman, especially during a damage spike where I have to spam Nourish to keep up anyway and feel like a neutered Paladin. Unlike 25 man raids, 10s tend to require you to handle both tank healing and raid healing at the same time. Lucky (or bored) is the healer in a 10 man raid that has no tank assignment, so the druid’s raid healing ability can’t always show itself off as well anyway.

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Class Comparison

Posted by penuruloki on October 10, 2009

Yeah, another WoW post. This is technically still a personal blog and not a WoW blog, but there’s not a whole lot else going on in my life right now, so I’m not going to fight it anymore.

This is mostly a background intro to explain what my purpose is here. The actual comparisons will be posted later.

My first toon (and my main once again) is a Paladin I leveled as a tank. My thought process when I rolled him was “survivability first” and a plate wearer with healing capability fit the bill. When I got talents at level 10, I did some research, and decided he was a tank. He would be built entirely around the ability to take a hit and shrug it off.

I didn’t have any level capped friends on the server, so I took my time leveling, slowing down to work on my Blacksmithing (both my skill level and the quests involved – I still have the trinket that summoned my first epic at level 40), and especially running every dungeon I could. I was specced for tanking, but I often found people asking me to heal, and I found I could do that too without much difficulty.

So after I did hit 70 (cap at the time) I turned around and leveled another Pally to heal. After I did that, I found some of my friends that had joined since were leveling, and I hopped on my neglected Druid to level with them. He also reached 80. I had a harder time adjusting to his healing (which was much less straightforward than the Pally), but I did take to his tanking.

Thus began the project. Having marveled and thrilled at exploring the differences between the classes for tanking, I decided I wanted to try them all. That soon expanded to healing as well, as I got better at healing on both hybrid classes and found myself doing it more. In more defined terms, I wanted to have all 4 classes to cap, geared, and skilled enough to handle heroic 5 man content (you can’t keep up multiple raiding toons without excessive effort; I tried).

I’m not there yet. My priest (Holy/Shadow) is only 63 and healing Outland content. My Warrior (Prot/Fury) is only 42 and has only tanked Deadmines and Scarlet Monestary. I’m not going to draw conclusions for those classes when I don’t have full access to their abilities yet. Wouldn’t be fair. I do however have the previously noted Paladins and Druid, as well as a Shaman and Death Knight leveled to 80 since I envisioned the project. Since I have no idea when I will actually start working on the Priest and Warrior again, I might as well lay out my experiences with the different classes thus far.

[EDIT] The Healer comparison is now posted HERE. A comparison of tanks will come later when I have a little more experience with my DK.

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Back to Raiding

Posted by penuruloki on October 8, 2009

Finally got back into Raiding this week, mostly in Ulduar. I do have to say I’m a little bit jealous. We took Mama along at first. She got the Energy Siphon off FL (which I didn’t care about), but it meant that Pureity wasn’t there to bid against me on the Pulsing Spellshield (which I badly needed) from XT. I paid her back though. I reminded her that she wanted the trinket off Razorscale, and she switched to Pure. It dropped, she suicided from almost the top of the list and got it. Looked up the loot lists and she switched back to Mama for Kologarn, and sure enough, the Spirit Trinket dropped. Pure picked up the crit trinket she wanted, AND _two_ nice iLevel 219 trinkets for her new priest as well. I’m not jealous that she got gear I wanted (Energy Siphon and Eye of the Broodmother are both sidegrades for my Pally, I’m happier they found a good home with Mama), but that she somehow got lucky enough to have them all drop for her. I’m lucky if I see a decent item drop (and I do consider myself lucky to get the shield I needed so badly). At any rate, we dropped the 4 easy bosses, put in a wipe on Auriaya, and called it a night for Tuesday.

Wednesday didn’t go as well. First they wanted to go into ToC 10, with 2 healers no less. I need to segue into a complaint here.

There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed a lot since the patch. Elitist hardcore raiders like to complain about casuals/socials/M&S wearing good gear from easy to obtain badges. They claim that it ruins the raiding experience by putting said casuals/socials/M&S on the same level as those who actually work for their gear. The reality is that badge gear actually makes it harder on competent casuals and socials (M&S is always going to benefit from easy gear and make the lives of those around them miserable). It means that people gear up faster than they skill up. It means that people have no gear upgrade outside progression raiding, so they insist on going to the hardest content when they and/or their groups aren’t prepared for it. Wearing gear they haven’t “earned” isn’t a status issue, like the elitists make out. Skill isn’t about good or bad. Wiping on “easier” content doesn’t make you M&S. It means you’re learning. Avoiding that content by using badges doesn’t make you bad, but if you find yourself skipping hard fights and gearing off easy ones, you’re not going to be ready for progression content. Hardcore raiders don’t suffer much. They figure out quickly if a recruit can’t hack it. It’s the casuals and socials that deal with the gear/skill mismatches.

Based on that rant you can guess how our night went. We wiped over and over on the Northrend Beasts in ToC. We only made it to the 2nd phase once, and we were racing to finish phase one with 6 dps in the group. We barely made the dps race with 6 dps. The rest of our attempts were too tight on healing. One snobold on a healer left the other one to handle the tank and the whole raid. We had no safety net, and the group wasn’t tight enough to run without one. When I got a snobold on my back, and announced it in Vent, it stayed on my back for a long time.

After failing miserably there, we moved back to Ulduar. It only took us a couple couple wipes to drop Auriaya (surprisingly), but we wiped a few times on Ignis (even with 3 healers) and called it a night. One boss. Just over two hours, and only one kill. No one in the raid was bad, but we weren’t prepared. If people don’t take their tactics and their rotations more seriously than their gear, we’re not going to succeed at raiding. We need to work on Ulduar, our current _skill_ level, not ToC, our current _gear_ level. It would be easier with a more consistant group, but that’s one of the first casualties of casual raiding. Hopefully our next foray in will be better.

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Abandoned again

Posted by penuruloki on October 8, 2009

With the effort to get back into blogging, I thought I’d try to snag the latest copy of Windows Live Writer, since it worked well enough last time I tried it, right down to supporting my OS when their other free downloads didn’t.

Well sucks to be an MS customer. In moving it out of Beta, they decided to drop support of XP x64. Still support the much older XP 32 bit. Support Vista 64. But apparently they just like to stick it to us XP x64 users. Yet another reason that no matter how Windows 7 turns out, I won’t be upgrading. MS won’t get any more money from me until they start supporting all the products they’ve sold.

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