Sunday, January 25, 2009

Healing overhaul Part 2

Last week in Part 1, I wrote some ideas about how to address two commonly cited problems with the healing game in WoW: Healers are too focused to their UI, and not enough on the game world. There are a few other issues that seem to come up a lot. Tobold recently summarized one well, making probably the shortest post he's ever made, saying only the following:

The fundamental problem of healing

* If I heal 1 second too early, my spell is wasted.
* If I heal 1 second too late, we wipe.

It's an interesting statement, rife with implications. It's a bit of an exaggeration of course. Tanks don't normally go from full HP to dead in 2 seconds. But healers are in a unique situation here, and the need for such careful timing and vigilance are part of what make healing less enjoyable for some. A possible solution is also immediately implied: some way to make a heal that lands early still count for something. Before getting into that, I'd like to point out another fundamental problem with healing in MMOs that's somewhat related.

When working on new content, a raid must carefully balance its healing, damage and tanking to achieve the best result, because their second-to-best effort will be a wipe. Just a bit short on healing means the tank goes down or too much DPS dies to beat the timer. Too little DPS means the same thing. Of course once the encounter is beaten and the same group picks up more gear the fight becomes much easier. The healers that struggled to keep everyone up initially now find it easier because they have better longevity and throughput. But the tank also has better gear, meaning they have to heal less. And the DPS also has better gear, shortening the fight and meaning they have to heal for a shorter period. So they have the gear to heal for greater and greater amounts and longer and longer periods, but need to heal for less and less. The result is that the top end guilds usually bring extra healers initially and drop them as they move into farm mode. This is frustrating if you're one of the extra healers. But it's also frustrating to get better and better gear as a healer and to not really get to make use of it until the next tier of content. Note that tanks had the same problem in TBC, before Blizzard's "tanking overhaul" fixed it. Their best gear gave too much mitigation and not enough threat to use on farm content. It's frustrating to get new gear and not get to use it 95% of the time. DPS gets to feel their progression with each new upgrade. They get to slap each other on the ass with each new record crit they land. But healers pass a threshold and then are kind of just doing risk management. Healers almost never talk about record crit heals, because by the time we get the gear for them, we are almost never in a situation where they get to land.

So here's an idea. Let's make overheals count for something. If we give each player some buffer health, an overheal can get saved up even if it takes them above 100%, sort of like Living Seed. We have to make this count for less than a regular heal tho, or else we're just moving the problem further down. So let's make the buffer health over 100% decay over time, bringing them back to 100%. The higher you save up HP, the faster it decays. We could say that characters have a hard cap of 200%, over which any heals truly are overheals. But at 190%, it's practically on overheal too, because the health drop from 200% to 190% would be almost instant. At 110%, health would drop towards 100% in a few seconds, enough time to be a useful buffer against the next hit but not so useful that you'd want to try and keep everyone way up above 100% constantly. Unless you overgear the content and have such good regen as a healer that you have lots of excess mana and can afford to keep everyone up above 100%. And here's where your over-geared healers can feel useful again. Besides providing everyone with extra buffer health, let's also make all that additional health count for extra damage. If you have enough mana regen to keep your star mage up above 150% health during Heroism, he will get a 50% boost to his damage. Now the freak 15k crit heals actually mean something. Your mage will notice some huge hit land at the same time, and now the healer gets to partake in the ass-slapping as well.

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