The Hardest Problem in Mathematical Theorycrafting

The Hardest Problem I've Come Across

At Blizzcon this year, someone asked me what the hardest problem I'd come across was, math-wise, when theorycrafting.  I suppose I'd had a good bit to drink at that point, so I couldn't come up with a good answer, but while working on my BM spreadsheet the other day, and attempting to account for the artifact talents, I thought of an answer.  The single hardest problem I've come across (and continue to come across) is how to keep going when I feel overwhelmed. I suppose that's not really a math-specific problem, as I imagine it's an issue with most disciplines, but I feel like it's a really common one in the maths, at any level.

What I mean to say is there's no math that I do on this site, or on my own when working on theorycrafting, that is particularly difficult.  I don't do anything that your average high-schooler wouldn't learn in algebra class.  There are a few statistics short cuts I have memorized for convenience's sake. But aside from root memorization, there's nothing particularly difficult or complicated about the math I'm doing.

Where it starts to look complicated is when you combine multiple parts of playing a hunter together. Because there are dozens of equations you need to combine to understand how even a single ability works, it's easy to get overwhelmed and feel like things are a lot more complicated than they really are. The thing is, each one of the dozens of equations, on their own, are very simple: basic algebra and arithmetic.

Everyone Gets Frustrated

One of the reasons I enjoy abstract theorycrafting is I generally get really excited by numbers.  I remember the other day, noticing a fairly mundane fact about focus regeneration during Aimed Shot casts; specifically, that regardless of how much haste you have, you will always generate the same amount of focus during the cast-time of Aimed Shots. This is because for as much as your Aimed Shot's cast time is reduced by your haste, your base focus regen will be increased by haste.  This is not important at all, and is just happy little consequence of algebra that I hadn't considered before. When you write out the equations, it seems very obvious, but for some reason it had just never occurred to me, and when I noticed it, it just made me giddy.   

The point of that story is: I love math, I get excited by the the most basic principles of math. Even so, I still sometimes get frustrated, and get these mental blocks because I'm overwhelmed by the magnitude of processes affecting various abilities.  

I was working on my legion BM DPS spreadsheet the other day, and as I was nearing completion (or at least had gotten as far as I wanted to with the small amount of information we had at the time), MMO-Champion released their datamining of the new artifact weapon talent trees.  Upon realizing how much this changed everything I had just done, I kind of just wanted to give up, thinking "there are too many variables, I'll never be able to do this right, and no one cares about what I'm doing anyway".  

So, I walked to the liquor store, bought a six pack, and strummed my guitar for a bit.  Then I started working on these new Dire Beast changes, and really they weren't that complicated.  It didn't take as much thought to set up the new artifact talents as setting up the initial rotation. There was nothing particularly hard about any of the new talents, it was just that when I saw them all at once, I gave up. I didn't take the time to think about whether or not they were actually difficult, I just gave up.

Breaking it Down

One of the reasons I love spreadsheets so much, is I like to imagine my brain having various different cells. Maybe I can't handle thinking about every single thing that's affecting an ability at once, but I can grasp each of them separately, and put that into a cell.  Then I can take another cell and put all of them together.

Maybe that's not actually at all how my brain works, I don't know.  But, if I can understand each of the parts separately, then I have a better shot at understanding how they all work together.  If I start by looking at how they all work together without looking at the smaller constituents, then I'm lost.

Remember to Breathe

I wanted to talk about all of this, because a lot of people have these sort of panicky moments. Whether your a math-person or not, you can get overwhelmed and not realize how simple something actually is. Or I don't know, maybe it's just me. I'm not trying to tell anyone they have to love numbers the way I do. If you don't like it, that's totally fine too, I'll be happy to do the maths on your behalf!  But, if it's just a matter of feeling overwhelmed or panicked, what helps me, at least, is grabbing a beer, maybe listening to some music, and taking it one piece at a time.


  1. I know you were just having a moment of being overwhelmed, but just to be clear, many of us DO really care about what you're doing. I love reading and commenting about this stuff, I just don't do much of it this early in the development cycle. Also, beer helps just about everything:)

    1. Thanks man! I met a doctor once who liked to prescribe beer to her patients whenever one came in with some ridiculous thing they thought they had because they'd read about it on the internet (which I'm told was fairly often). I feel like that should be added to most everyone's prescriptions... well, maybe not actually sick people. you know, they probably shouldn't let me be a doctor...

  2. Delerium,

    I can whole heartedly appreciate the perspective you share here. I often volunteer time to help inexperienced raiders learn what real raiding looks like, and how to improve with AIE's Noob Raid going on two years now. This is the same exact place that new raiders find themselves.

    You are in front of a new encounter with multiple phases and abilities triggering. There are flashing lights, spell effects, mechanics, raid call outs, changing role responsibilities throughout the fight along with add switching. New raiders see that picture, a mess of complex things all needing to be done all at once and are overwhelmed. How are they supposed to have a good experience when all the information is chaotic and confusing?

    Its all about the power of a Plan. Break the encounter up into manageable pieces and begin working through it. Phase One: Where are you starting the fight? What mechanics will trigger that require you to move? Where is the best place to move to? How many times will this occur? After that thought experiment, you should have an idea of where you start and where you will go throughout the first phase.

    What is being called out during phase one? Which callouts are important to me and which don't apply to me at all? Are there predictable damage spikes that I can use personal defensives on? Etc. This step by step construction of the encounter is repeated with each phase and modified as you practice. But in the end, you have a Plan, built piece by piece as each new facet of the encounter happens.

    No longer is the boss a complex set of responsibilities, all happening simultaneously in one big mental logjam. Its a step by step progression of events that the person can visualize and execute to address each moment. Then just practice until the boss is dead.

    So Kudos, Delerium, for providing a template for approaching initially complex and overwhelming problems to help people frame it in an approachable manner.

    1. yeah, you know, I wasn't thinking about it that way, but we definitely have that issue with new raiders a lot, too. On my alliance guild, the raid leader often will remind people to turn off DBM warnings that don't matter to their role, or make the warnings that are important significantly bigger than those that aren't specific to their role.

      I can't remember exactly where, I think it was either a Preach video, or a Grumpy Elf blog post (which are very different sources, weird), but anyway, they were talking about the little things that set apart great raiders from average raiders. Like knowing when it's good to sacrifice DPS to use a defensive, or looking for those little places where CDs do the most good. You know what, it was RogerBrown when we had him on the Podcast, but not the recent one, a few months back. So, you might have a priority add that needs to be burned down, so a good raider will save their CDs for that phase, but sometimes, even though that's "the priority" you can still run into times where you've used too many CDs on it, and some of them are wasted, and could have been used to help kill the boss. Anyhow, he was mostly talking about the continual process of re-evaluating those little things you do, when it's best to move, when you can use CDs, when to use Defensives. And more importantly, not relying on your raid leader to tell you to do those things, but actively thinking about them.

      Most people, I think, learn to DPS first, until they get that number high enough that they can be considered for a mid-level gear, and then they go about learning all the other little things. I imagine it's much better to learn it from the get go, the way your group does.

    2. Maybe not entirely surprising, but I'm 100% sure Grumpy has addressed aspects of these points across multiple posts. I've also heard that RogerBrown interview/guest appearance and the Preach videos. When I was that mid-geared Thugg (pun intended) I had a hunter take me under their wing and taught me to see this deeper yet simpler game. Its how they handled heroics (now mythics) so well. Take each element break it down piece by piece and then reassemble. Practice and make adjustments and eventually you win.

      Its the same process that Shoot goes through with his criminally insane solo's of current bosses. You used this one specific example of this theory in practice, and I think its very instructive, and more widely applicable than most might initially think.

      Well done, Sir

  3. That seems as good an answer as could be given. I adore this site and always find it interesting... even when I don't understand what I'm reading! Thanks for the effort.