Saturday, February 21, 2009

Healing in first person view

A couple nights ago I had a dream. Like a lot of people often do I'm sure, I had a gaming dream. I was playing WoW and doing a raid on some boss I'd never seen before. I was healing and the rest of the raid was spread out around the boss in various positions. I woke up and had the dream fresh in my mind, so I was quick to notice something unusual about it.

I wasn't using raid frames.

In the dream, the HP of each raid member was clearly visible in the game display, and each player's nameplates was perfectly easy to click. I had previously considered Ghostcrawler's comments about improving nameplates for healing and decided that try as Blizzard might, no serious healer would ever use the nameplates for healing. They simply lacked precision. Suddenly I began to doubt that position. In the dream, the nameplates didn't jump around the screen when players got close to each other. It occurred to me that it would not be hard to code the nameplates to have a little more 'weight' as it were, so they could not simply blink around the screen when they ran out of space, but instead would slide out of the way at a fixed max speed when they needed to. Players that were behind me or off to the side still had their nameplates on the game window, with little arrows to indicate the direction they were.

Yes, I thought, that could all work in such a way that healers could look up from the raid UI and see the actual fight. I started adding buff icons, MT indicators and out-of-range styles in my imaginary setup. But the sober light of morning quickly revealed the problem with this model. In a first-person game, the direction you are facing is always 'forward'. When you turn, as you will inevitably need to in a fight of any complexity at all, the entire set of name plates would spin around with you. It wouldn't be good as a healer to have to quickly turn around to avoid a Bad Thing™ and then let the tank die because you couldn't locate his spinning nameplate fast enough.

Nameplate targeting only makes sense if you have some control over which way is forward. You could have a view mode that fixes your camera in a certain direction. (Just like it does in WoW if you hold the left mouse button while keyboard turning.) But it would immediately become confusing to use movement keys where 'forward' was no longer forward. You could then replace the typical WASD style key meanings with keys that move up, down, left, and right with respect to the camera, rather than to your character. Then the whole thing might make sense. But at this point, you no longer have a first person view game. You have a standard third person, three-quarter view. (Think Mario64.) And I just think that's too much of a change, even if it were a temporary camera mode you could switch in and out of.

So I'm back to giving up on the idea of getting rid of raid frames. However what I notice interesting in GC's original post now was that better nameplates was not the primary way he suggested freeing healers from the UI. The first thing he mentioned was "throwing larger heals more rarely". I hadn't really understood where he was going with this until I re-read the thread this week where he expounded on the regen nerf in 3.1. I was so focused on the numbers he provided, I hadn't noticed the reasoning (actually explained better by Thorene halfway down.) If heals hit less often, then priests and druids would never run out of mana because we could exploit our various OOFSR tricks to regen infinite mana. So it's less of an overall nerf as it is a preemptive balance change to make shamans and paladins viable in future encounters that feature "larger heals more rarely". I still don't understand how druids are supposed to be competitive in this new world though. Nothing could describe the opposite of druids better than "rare large heals."

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