Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Late Night Speed Runs, Encoding

After having played my priest over the weekend, he was now level 78 and doing WotLK LFD runs. There are massive differences in the skill requirement for a healer since TBC instances. Some are as trivial as this one. And some take much longer and sometimes tanks can even die within a second of carelessness. Those tanks typically are also the ones who allow for a lot of group damage.

I can't show you a video of the latter, because these runs are way too long; and too boring to watch. But here's a 10 minute late night run. The fast runs are much more probable late at night. Which supports my theory that there is a very high correlation between skill and time investment in MMORPGs, and this entire I'm-skilled-but-casual debate is absolute niche; the few existing supremely skilled casuals haven't been casual in the past.

On encoding, I am still using the X264 (H.264 variant) codec for video for windows (vfw) combined with Fraps and VirtualDub 64 bit. For some reason only the 64 bit variant allows me to encode sound properly. Otherwise the 32 bit version would probably be better. Codec management under windows is still a lot of trouble.

I also had a look at the myriad of settings of the codec. There is no help available for the 64 bit X264vfw 64 bit codec, but the original x264 command line codec has an extensive help. I copy/pasted its content here. Then I went through every single one of these settings and optimized it for quality and file size, accepting much higher encoding times. I also did some testing of picture quality; nothing professional, but still some extensive, albeit amateurish, tuning. I saved the results in a VirtualDub settings save file. I don't know how well this save file works for your codec environment. But if you want to try it out, tell me whether it worked.

The video above took about one hour to encode on my i5 2500K 3.3GhZ CPU, using all four kernels to about 80%. The lossless Fraps video data was 12.3 GB, the resulting encoded file was 200 MB at CRF=23. Of course, this original encoded file still has a much higher quality then what you see at Youtube.

I also changed the way I record. In the past I had changed my resolution to the final video resolution. But this looked terrible with the native 2560x1600 resolution of my monitor while playing. To complicate matters, the native resolution is very demanding of my HDs and since I write to the same raid array that I load WoW from, loading instances or sometimes even textures can make WoW stutter while recording.

As a consequence this video is recorded at Fraps' half-size option, which produces a 1280x800 video that doesn't look as sharp as I would like. But the advantage is that I can start to record whenever I feel like it and don't need to worry about resolution changes or stuttering. To keep the UI readable I increased its size in WoW's settings. This turned out to be a good idea, regardless of recording. Of course, 1280x800 is 16:10 and not Youtube's preferred 16:9 (1280x720). Youtube handles that by adding black bars depending on how you watch the video.

I tested DailyMotion as a Youtube alternative, because they allow uploading of up to 100 minute videos, while Youtube only allows 15 minutes. But DailyMotion uses 25 frames per second and Youtube uses 30 fps. While 30 look almost perfect to my eyes, the 25 do make cast bars stutter in my opinion. Notice that this perception varies from human to human. This is of additional interest, since 25 fps require about 17% less data flow towards the raid array, which would have made a difference while recording at 2560x1600.

So, how do I like WoW so far? Thanks to the special mindset I assumed, quite well, actually. I'll make an analytic post about it eventually.


  1. The fast runs are much more probable late at night.

    I've always assumed that it's mostly because you get no kids at those night hours. And the adults who care playing late in the night are actually interested in the game, so they know what they are doing.

    The best times for be, BTW, have been early saturday and sunday morning (I play on a french server, you can get canadian late-night players in the morning).

    Your gameplay seems a lot like smite-spamming and nothing else.... when leveling my shaman heal in dungeons I had a lot more to do(expecially if I wanted to dps a bit on the side). The first Utgarde Keep runs in BC gear were also a lot harder than anything coming later....

  2. My gameplay is incredibly boring, Helistar. I guess that's part of the information I want to get through to my readers.

    My gameplay gets better and more interesting the worse the group. But it's actually best with tanks who pull 3-4 mob groups at once and never make a break. Unfortunately these tanks are rare.

  3. Yes, night runs are definitely better. But it takes some serious dedication to play a video game at 11 p.m. instead of getting some sleep. Your chance of getting grouped with a 14 year old kid is very small. And if you get a 14 year old at 11 p.m. it's a dedicated and skilled player.

    But be careful at max level. You get the worst runs if you start at around 11 p.m. because then you have have a high chance of being grouped with raiders after their raid. And those player are either tired from raiding and don't give a damn about any mechanic (which doesn't make heroics easier) or just bad player used to get their welfare raid epics or both. Either way it's not going to be a pleasant run (unless you are one of them :).

  4. Should have read Helistars comment before I posted mine. :)

    > it's actually best with tanks who pull 3-4 mob groups
    > at once and never make a break. Unfortunately these
    > tanks are rare.

    It's no small feat to constantly pull 3-4 mob groups without a break and keep them under control with a tank with about 5% avoidance, few or no cooldowns. Add to that the fact that it's very likely a new class to the player and he might not master all the tricks to keep their resource bar full.

    In WotLK, tanking a heroic with a Paladin was silly easy. Keeping the mana bar full without drinking, which required holding back on those shiny shiny spells, wasn't that easy.

    And, to be honest, if my healer would spam smite I wouldn't assume that he is an excellent player able to handle the heat. I would expect him to be a DPS player who queued as heal for the faster invite who sucks at healing. I would try to pull in a way to survive with self and passive smite heals and do nothing to risk requiring a heal.

  5. And, to be honest, if my healer would spam smite I wouldn't assume that he is an excellent player able to handle the heat. I would expect him to be a DPS player who queued as heal for the faster invite who sucks at healing. I would try to pull in a way to survive with self and passive smite heals and do nothing to risk requiring a heal.

    Now that would be a strange misinterpretation. I think it is an insult for tanks if the healer can heal them with smite spam alone. It means that they don't pull fast enough for the healer, and he decided to spam smite to not be bored to death.

    That same lfd without smite spam? It would been incredibly boring. It's also much more demanding for a healer to heal via atonement. He must not only watch the tank's and group's health, but also the one of the enemies.

  6. Wait, I wasn't saying you shouldn't heal with smite spam. Atonement is in the game for a reason.

    It's just that I wouldn't expect to be grouped with an excellent player who a) loves to heal and b) knows how to use atonement during low damage situations. In the end, 50% of the player are below average.

  7. The following text was not written by me. I found it in a forum back in the dark ages of vanilla. When reading it, be aware that this was written during vanilla when dual spec didn't exist and respeccing was expensive enough to require a week of farming.

  8. There are basically four types of priests. If you are a priest, you likely
    fall into one of these four categories. Many times, people think they
    belong to one category, but often times fall into another it is only
    through complete honesty will you realize which category you fall under.

    Healers: These priests, just plain and simple, like to heal. Many have a God-complex, which is amplified by having people rely on them for their very lives. Nothing makes this player happier than being the only healer in a group of agro-happy DPS/tanks, and making it through an entire dungeon without a single death. While mostly under-appreciated, anyone who groups with one of these players comes to expect that same level of performance from all priests they group with. These players are often elitists who only group with people they know and trust, and will often leave a PUG for nothing more than the slightest offhand remark from a rogue. Until recently, these healers have been a complete joke in PvP, which either lead to living inside an instance/friendly territory, BG-ing exclusively in guild, or re-rolling a druid/shaman/paladin.

    Face Melters: A Healer's redheaded stepbrother. More often than not, these players started off life thinking they wanted to be a healer and upon seeing the awesome, face-melting capabilities of the shadow tree (not to mention the awesome graphics associated with shadow form), fell to the dark side. Face Melters, however, are quite accomplished healers! When invited to places like Molten Core, you will often see Face Melters switch gear and start tossing around heals however, they know what they're best at, and can more often be found throwing up Shadow Weaving and mind flay.

    Here's the dirty secret! Healers and Face Melters get along PERFECTLY! The Healers don't like healing competition (OMG I'm #1 in the healing charts again! /stroke e-peen), and the Face Melters like to melt faces knowing that someone is covering the heals! Healers and Face Melters are like peas and carrots! They even have a secret code when LFG:

    Priest 1: LFG Need DPS
    Priest 2 whispers: I'm a face melter, and I won't roll on healing gear.
    Priest 2 has joined the group.

  9. So where does the "war" between supposed Healers and supposed Face Melters come from? The one we see raging across the priest forums on a daily basis? Well, here are the other two types of priests:

    Groupers: Ah, so you leveled a 60 NE rogue/hunter, and found you couldn't find a group with anyone? Get booted out of your UBRS group because some random priest didn't like your name? Well Qgnyiou, if you roll a priest, you are GARENTEED a group! No questions asked! Unfortunately they realized really fast that the kind of priests people want to group with (Healers), are crappy at PvP not to mention they hate playing Health-Bar-Whack-a-Mole. Usually if forced to re-spec to holy, they re-roll. Or they stubbornly stay as shadow spec, refuse to heal anyone, and build up a huge resentment towards those Healers who actually enjoy being holy especially when they see them running around Orgrimmar with a Benediction. They often consider themselves Face Melters.

    Healbots: Ah, so your guild has 25 rogues, and someone needs to take one for the team, huh? You volunteer and roll a priest. You still keep your 60 rogue for farming and PvP and doing everything else, but you'll bust out your priest when the guild needs their healbot. These players rolled a priest for the primary purpose of healing, grudgingly, and don't get offended at the thought that priests should be able to do anything else. They look at Face Melters as idiots who don't know how to play their class. Any priest who tries to PvP, in fact, is an idiot. Their solution to any problems Healers may have? Re-roll another class! They often consider themselves Healers.

    Healbots and Groupers HATE each other. Healbots think that Groupers are idiots for refusing to heal, and Groupers resent the fact that Healbots have epics. They often shout at each other on the forums: the Groupers calling the Healbots names like "fanboi" and "loot !@!#&," while the Healbots tell the Groupers to "L2P" and laugh that they'll never get into an end game guild.

    So which one are you?

  10. I would assume that my healer is a "Grouper" if he would heal mainly through smite spam. And I would assume that he will let me die or start to bitch (both would slow the run down) when I pull to much to force him to stop having fun (casting smite).

    I'm very well aware that Nils is not a Grouper but either a Healer or Face-Melter (hard to tell after dual-spec). But would I know that "some name" is?

  11. In the end, 50% of the player are below average.

    Yeah, that's called skill. Only desperate healers heal everyone to max all the time. And those who think that they have endless mana. The real trick is to not let anyone die while using as little mana as possible and supporting the group with as much damage as possible.

    I think you're quoted text is very outdated, actually. It was like that in the beginning. Since then I played every role in a MMO; and so have many players.
    We were always searching for something new to explore. The mechanics of one specc could only keep our minds busy so and so long.

    No experiened MMO player is 'just a facemelter' at this point. Or just a healer. Even the most dedicated healers I knew, somebone specific comes to mind, eventually explored damage speccs and argued that they just have to do everything on their own.
    One of the holy priests I've known used to buff himself up with all sorts of potions when they still stacked indefinitely, and then holy-fired mobs to death in classic WoW.

    Fun times, unbalanced, but fun.

  12. Adding some random comments:

    - when leveling tanks with LFD, I always assume that the group sucks, starting with the healer. So, unless I get some very clear and evident feedback (= messages) telling me to pull more/go faster, I always play safe. Tanks are paranoid people :)

    - if your gameplay is incredibly boring you're doing something wrong. Like choosing the wrong class/spec, probably. If I had found myself spamming lesser healing wave when leveling my shaman in WotLK, I'd have dumped it.

    - it's not desperate healers who keep everyone at full health: you should try to keep everyone at full health as much as possible, mana permitting. Things can go wrong, you can have a lag spike, a DPS may get aggro, full health bars give you more time before people start dying.