Sunday, January 22, 2012

Damage Per Second: the MMO fundamental?

I've been toying around with an idea recently.

There's an extent to which I think about the world in ways that I imagine a structural engineer might (although I'm definitely not a structural engineer!). I always want to think about fundamentals, principles, platforms, and foundations. Right? These are all words I've used a lot in my posts. I used one of them in the title for this post, before I even knew I'd be writing this paragraph.

I'm drawn towards finding those few, simple things that you should get good at, and I think of everything else following on naturally after you've attained some degree of proficiency at those simple things.

There's a lot to recommend this viewpoint! When I was an amateur-competitive fencer in college, for example, the fundamental that you could always go back to work on was your footwork. Your ability to move your body up and down the strip at will compensated for almost any other failure you might experience. You could completely misread your opponent's intentions, betray your own plans, and otherwise bumble just about everything but if you were sufficiently agile and athletic on your toesies, your opponent couldn't touch you.

This works for playing a hunter, too.

Imagine a survival hunter that did a lot of things wrong. Maybe she just came back to the game after playing in BC or early Wrath and she's not sure what this cobra shot thing is, so she uses steady shot. Maybe her spec is weird here and there. Nonetheless, if she understands that Explosive Shot is her most important damaging ability and keeps it on cooldown, she's going to do pretty good damage. Fixing a substantial error like using SS instead of CoS is going to net her another 2-3k DPS maybe, but that will just bring her from "above average" to "even further above average".

To go back to the analogy with fencing: the most fundamental of the MMO gameplay fundamentals is pushing buttons. Regardless of role or class, we interact with the game world by pushing buttons, and I think playing a DPS character is really instructive in this regard.

If you learn the game by playing a damage dealer, you have an understanding that you must always be pushing a button. There is never a time when you could be performing better by remaining idle. Further, there are often times you could be performing better by pushing a different button.

Last night I reviewed the video I recorded of my guild's most recent Blackhorn 10-normal kill. Assuming I actually buy a video editing program, this will probably be the first video guide I do because it honestly seems like the first (and almost the only) normal-difficulty encounter that warrants a video guide from a hunter PoV. But I'm wandering.

What I actually wanted to say was that it was painful watching that video. I winced - a lot! - at DPS mistakes I made. Pushing the wrong button, or the right one one at the wrong time, or not pushing a button, etc. I did fine with the encounter. I wasn't hit by a single Blade Rush. I stood in a couple swirlies it made sense for me to stand in. I killed my drakes in time and helped out on the melee mobs when I could. My pet spent moooooooost of his time biting something. And yet still it was painful for me to watch because of the times I misjudged the CS cooldown, or triggered the haste from T13 4pc at a dumb time, or whatever.

This awareness of wanting to always be pushing a button, and further, to be pushing the right button is what I'm trying to get at.

I've currently got a little druid alt that I very occasionally do some leveling with. I've had him for quite a while now, several months, and he's like level 40 or something. He quests feral and dungeons resto. When I'm healing low-level dungeons on him, I spend a lot of time spamming Wrath, because there's no healing to be done and it feels wrong to just stand there.

But what if I weren't someone leveling an alt? Especially what if I weren't in heirloom gear, just the well-itemized stuff from helpful satchels and quest rewards, such that my hots (which mostly depend on level at that point) were roughly as effective, but mana was more of an issue? Wouldn't I then feel like I was playing correctly but standing idle much of the time, so I could have a full mana bar and an innervate ready just in case?

What about tanks that hold on to their cooldowns "just in case," even on trash, and then never end up using them?

This was a huge problem for RDF groups when Cataclysm was released. Warriors that never used shield block or shield wall, Death Knights that never used vampiric blood: they all made difficult trash pulls more difficult because of an inclination not to push buttons. Trash wipes happened pretty frequently in those groups. Think of heroic Deadmines or the Stonecore, when a tank would go down with all their cooldowns available.

When I play my tank alt, I am basically always staring at my cooldowns, waiting for them to come up so I can use them again. Trash and bosses alike.

When I play my healer, I have power auras specifically set up to remind me to use inner focus, power infusion, power word: barrier, and pain suppression.

I think part of that mentality comes from growing up DPS. Use your cooldowns early and often, right? Use every global. Always Be Casting.

I think you can make a pretty good argument that playing a damage dealer is the footwork of WoW. Sure, as you tank Warlord Zon'ozz you'll get better at timing your shield wall for Psychic Drain. Sure, as you heal heroic Morchok you'll get better at finding the right time to channel tranquility. But you can paper over a lot of mistakes by always being active. When I'm playing my healer, if damage is low I just start bubbling people and spamming PoH, because why not? Damage is going to happen eventually, I may as well have some shields on people, right? If I'm tanking and shield wall is on cooldown at a time that I'd like to use it again, I might live through it anyway just because I started with higher health because of damage I didn't take earlier.

Basically: there's a lot to be said for having an understanding that you need your button-pushing to be something that happens without conscious thought. I have to be careful not to think of the things my fingers are doing while I'm raiding! Some of the contortions the poor things have to go through are pretty weird. But because I'm not thinking about them, I have brainspace free to watch the rest of the encounter. I think that playing a damage dealer well is the best way to train yourself to play in this fashion, and I think that doing so has huge benefits for both tanking and healing.

Anyway, sorry! In the absence of big game things to talk about, you get rambling nonsense about footwork. I think about this game too much!

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're seeing the default Blogspot comment form, please be aware that I use Disqus for comment threading, and your comment will be imported into that system. Thank you very much for commenting!