Sunday, June 05, 2011

Basic Ability Conventions

I was running random Stockades on a low-level warrior, when I encountered a mage who was pretty obviously a new player. He wasn't a "bad" player, at least he did not pull mobs and roll need on everything. But his DPS was abysmal for that level.

Obviously, he had no heirlooms, so that made a difference. But more important was his spell mix.

He had Pyroblast, so he was a Fire mage. Except he never cast Fireball! He cast every single other spell in his repertoire instead. Frostbolts, Fireblasts, Frost Novas, Arcane Explosions, etc.

Clearly, this was the wrong thing to do. But when you think about it, there is a certain logic to his actions. First, he obviously saw Pyroblast as a "upgraded" Fireball. After all, why have two spells which hurl giant balls of fire at your enemies? And to be fair, there are specialization abilities which work like this. For example, Mangle replaces Claw for Feral druids.

As for the other spells, why have all these spells if you're not expect to use them? If you think about it, it does seem odd to drop half or more spells from your spellbook.

He is wrong, but he's not stupid. His reasoning makes some sense. And in the absence of easy to understand feedback, it's hard to tell that he's gone wrong.

Whenever people say that the levelling game is too easy, I think of players like this. We experienced players are used to the conventions of the genre, which extends to the abilities used. Ideas like "your best spell should be spammed" are a bit alien at first.

Even if you don't have the best reflexes, understanding those basic conventions can put you head and shoulders above new players who don't understand how abilities in the genre are supposed to work. We've internalized the math and advice that tells us to refresh DoTs when they expire and not before, to spam Fireball, to save instant spells for movement, to divide damage by cast time when evaluating effectiveness.

When you think about it, it is amazing how much knowledge we MMO players consider basic.


  1. I don't know. I mean, don't you have a look at the numbers when you cast a spell? At least an adult does it, does he not?

  2. Proficiency in many tasks requires preparation, execution and reflection. One can certainly become more proficient by employing one's ability to read. That is, of course, assuming one's desire to become more proficient in the first place.

    Simply by reading (and understanding) the ability descriptions, your Mage could have realised that only 3 of his current spells benefit from Fire Specialization and that (hard-)casting Pyroblast takes 1 second longer than casting Fireball.

    The interface option Beginner Tooltips also tries to help with potential confusions such as the Claw -- Mangle "problem" mentioned earlier.

  3. I think that is an excellent point. I have been playing so long that I forgot what it was like to be a TOTAL noob. Well, that plus when I started playing I played with a buddy who had played for a bit and that helped a lot.

    I have never played a Druid, dunno why. This week I rolled one up, and I am having a pretty difficult time with the mechanics. I am level 37, (as I recall) and I still have no idea what I am doing.

    So int is my primary stat. got it.
    leather only.

    ok, thats the easy part.
    Whats my ideal spell rotation? (balance) Yes, I should read, and I have, but everything that I read is about maximizing DPS at the level cap, but what about getting there?

    "Go read the sticky posts in the WoW forums" Did. Meh. Some info, but not a lot, and some of it contradictory. For example, can I influence the direction (sun vs moon) that my eclipse is going? I have no idea and the forums say "yes" and "no". :( Ok, I will just hit a training dummy and figure it out. Oh, wait, do we even have level thirty-something (TERRIBLE show, hated it) training dummies?

    Same with Hunter class, very low volume forum, but there are quite a few web sites out there to help (hunters union comes to mind).

    Nils, look at what numbers? When I look at the tooltip does it say "you are a fire mage, so there is a multiplier"? I cant recall. Personally I use drdamage (I think thats the name)It shows the expected damage for a given ability on the button bar, and its dynamic. Very cool. So when something procs, the numbers for some buttons goes up and its a pretty good indicator.

    I think that one of the problems that *I* have is that I am set in my ways. Paladin, warrior, mage spells/abilities make sense to me, I have some sort of context. Fireball? I understand that. Pyroblast? The description works for me. Frostbolt? Blizzard? They all make sense. But the druid stuff is like reading a new language. I have no idea of the context. I am NOT saying "So Blizz needs to fix it!" I AM saying "So I need to read more, and I have empathy for the mage in Stokeades."

  4. There has been an great point brought here. The lack of good in-game feedback when playing an MMO like WoW.

    Video games tend to have a pretty straight forward ability/weapon ladder with new spells replacing old spells.

    If play solo or have an unhelpful guild, there really nothing in-game that tells you to read class guide stickies or go to EJ for maths that you may or may not understand or really care about.

    You cast your big spell and things die - that's most of your feedback.

    Maybe WoW should have a "I'm new at this" check box in the client, that launches a tutorial mode for new players?

  5. You're either being too generous or missing the point.

    The mage picked a talent specialisation called "fire". You don't need a two-hour masterclass to work out that means your fire spells will be the strongest. So if you're not casting fire spells, you're being really thick.

    On the other hand, casters have a really hard time doing decent damage in early instances -- it's all AOE tanking before you get decent AOE spells, and the mobs just don't live long enough to cast anything. Tank dps, particularly, is hugely overpowered early on. So I've seen many mages smashing any old button just to get a spell off. That could explain the eclectic mix of spells. I'd be interested to know whether this particular mage was casting pyros any time other than the start of pulls, and how many frostbolts you really saw from them.

  6. I still remember my very first experience in WoW. I was a FPS guy. Upon the suggestion of my friend, I made a hunter. Upon entering the world, I was instructed to kill a handfull of wolves in the frozen valley of Dun Morogh. I engaged my first target and things quickly turned south. My targetting reticule was non-existant and then suddenly i was defenseless. The lupine lunged for me and despite all my efforts to strafe the mongrel's attacks, I found myself face down in the snow. Beaten.
    Noobs suck.

  7. I think that Merlot has the meat of it. Look, at low levels your DPS is going to be weird, period. Depending on your class/role, it will be high, low, static, dynamic, what ever.

    I use that time to figure out my class. For example, good time for frost mages to learn kiting and what "freze" means. Getting abilities over time allows the user to acclimate to them.

    But that's my problem with my balance Druid; what am I supposed to be learning at the low levels? If I am having this problem with my Druid, noobs must be crying. (I don't mean to make this my own personal help topic)

  8. Hes going to be wanting to cast the time you get a fireball off your target is usually dead

  9. Xayíde@Gurubashi8:11 AM, June 06, 2011

    You're mostly right, of course, but I wonder if a little reading and thinking might not have helped, as someone else has stated.
    Why cast Frostbolt, a casted nuke, when you have something very similar that matches your talent specialization?
    Well, he might not understand the concept of a tank, and the chill effect of Frostbolt might be something he finds useful during questing so he does the same in dungeons...

    Mangle only replaces Claw because neither has a CD and Mangle hits much harder and has the same energy cost. Mortal Strike only replaces Strike because they share a CD and Mortal Strike hits harder.

    I know all of this might not be obvious to new players but if you are not familiar with the mechanics of the game, you just experiment. He'd find that casting Fireball or Scorch would be more successful than Frostbolt at least.
    But I must agree that getting Pyroblast at level 10 is really confusing. You don't really want to cast it outside of a Hot Streak proc or precast it before pulls, and you only get access to Hot Streak much later. The whole point of specializations, as stated by Blizzard, was to allow your character to play as that spec and actually feel like you are that spec early on. You don't really have much reason to cast Pyroblast at level 10...

  10. Will Beckwith, WIN my friend, WIN. That was awesome.

    As an experienced player, I find it just as frustrating as the next guy to be in a group with someone who doesn't know the ins & outs of the game, or that class, or that instance, etc. I'm constantly discouraged though, by the prevalence of negative attitudes towards those people, rather than helpful advice or a sypathetic ear. This is not to say I think every new or inept player (not saing they are one in the same, necessarily) should be coddled and carried, but being such a socially interactive game, I wish I'd see more willingness to share knowledge within gaming situations rather than votes to kick those players.

    I've been on both sides- flailing my way through a new class, watching someone do the same while on my main- and I can't say I always practice what I preach. I've recently tried to learn tanking again afternot doing it for a long while and I've been very up front with my pugs, "I've never tanked this, but I learn quickly and I'm reading up on it, want me to leave?" Never been told to leave yet, which is either a good sign for the community or just dumb luck. Probably a little of both.

    I think I would generally agree with Rohan in that it's pretty amazing what we, as seasoned MMO veterans, take for granted as being "common knowledge."

  11. Try teaching a parent to play. All those 'obvious' things will smack you in the face. :)

  12. I am in the "leveling is too easy" crowd. As others have said, there is little in-game feed back to tell that mage that he was playing poorly. And in his defense, he wasn't. Being in Stockades, he had leveled up to at least his late teens, maybe early twenties (what level is Stockades nowadays?). What indicators did he have that he was using the wrong spells? The fact that he finished the Stockades with the group? The fact that he (likely) hadn't died yet, nor been challenged by his improper spell use?

    The only way Rohan knew his DPS was abysmal, and had an odd spell mix was due to a 3rd party addon.

    Why would one change something that's apparently doing the job? That's why players like me say that leveling is too easy. At some point using Frostbolt and Arcane Explosion as a Fire mage should make leveling difficult. Currently it does not. It's just slightly slower than using the optimal spells. At some point, the player should say, "OK using these spells is not working, what else do I have in my toolbox?"

    In regards to Maldwiz, proficiency requires there a way to identify inefficiency - up to and including failure. If said mage never fails, how can he know that there is a better way to do it? Why change something that continues to give positive reults?

    Some of the "fire spec=fire spells" comments are obviously from players that either don't remember, or didn't play older WoW patches with some VERY unintiutive ways to be most efficient. What seems "obvious" to you isn't obvious, it's a summation of what you currently understand regarding game mechanics.

  13. And in the absence of easy to understand feedback, it's hard to tell that he's gone wrong.

    ^ This x10000000.

    It is easy to get feedback outside of the game. EJ says your rotation should be X, the forums say your DPS should be Y, Arena Junkies say most Gladiator rogues are specced Z. But take a step back for a second. No player can even see their DPS without downloading an addon from a 3rd party website and unpacking a zip file in their WoW directory. Can you imagine other game companies being as developmentally lazy as this? It is great we are getting the Encounter Journal in 4.2, a full 3.2 versions after it should have existed. Up until this point, it appears that Blizzard expected players to teach each other how to play the game Blizzard designed; a quaint D&D-esque philosophy that seems woefully out of place in the year of our lord, 2011.

    The funny thing about the "conventions of the genre" is how absurd they are in the abstract. How many computer gamers mod their games (and why are they called addons when they are really mods)? Does Recount and Omen and AtlasLoot, etc, get 4 million (the approximate number of WoW NA subs) unique downloads each time they are updated? Does the WoW website even get 2 million unique hits per month? There must be a significant majority of the playerbase that logs onto WoW without any outside knowledge of the game at all. And if so, how does Blizzard expect them to gain the knowledge necessary to meaningfully participant in the endgame? By the mercy of LFD party members? Trade Chat? Guildies? Total strangers?

    Maybe this desire/necessity for tutorials is a symptom of the single-playerization of MMOs. Or perhaps it is a sign of increasingly insular game design where complex mechanics are made to appeal to veterans at the expense of attracting new blood. All that I know is that when I made a Goblin mage, one of the starting quests had me cast Fireball at a training dummy until Arcane Missiles proc'd, and I completed the quest by casting Arcane Missiles at the dummy. There should be more things like this. Blizzard already has instancing, NPC AI, and phasing. Why not make a tutorial heroic dungeon tailored to your role that briefly goes over what CC is, how to figure out a rotation/ability synergy, what fire looks like and why not to stand in it, and/or create a metric in the "live" dungeons that informs you of why you failed. Hell, Blizzard forces people to type in a reason to votekick a person, but never thought to forward that reason to the person kicked.

    How much are we paying these designers?

  14. "I don't know. I mean, don't you have a look at the numbers when you cast a spell? At least an adult does it, does he not?"

    You know... some people play just for fun and don't care about the numbers. When did MMORPGs become such a science that it required someone to sit down with a calculator to have fun?

  15. Another insightful post. Much as I wish you were a prot pally, I find your blog quite interesting.

    This kind of reminds me of me playing my new (level 70 currently) Frost DK. I've played a tank pretty much forever in MMRPGs, so a DPS class is a bit of a departure. I understand the basic strategy; deal as much damage as possible without pulling aggro, but beyond that it's a bit of a crap shoot.

    I really don't understand how the runes work, other than I guess you need to have a rune of the right type to cast that type of spell, ie death coil requires you have at least 1 unholy rune off cooldown, plus however much "runic power" the ability costs. Beyond that I'm guessing. My friend whose main is a Blood DK tells me "it's like playing whack a mole" so basically that's how I play it! I feel like there's something I'm missing though.

    Strangely, I seem to consistently be no 2 behind the tank on recount unless there's a mage, but who can compete with mage dps really?

  16. Had a bad pug experience last night that made me think of this post. There was a shadow priest who was using mind sear for EVERYTHING. 50% of his single-target dps was from mind sear. He thought mind flay was for soloing when you wanted to slow your target so it didn't get to you, and mind sear was what you used in dungeons.

    He switched to mind flay and his dps went from ~4.5k to 7k (in ZA.) It's still horrible, but without doing a lot of research out of the game how is he supposed to even know where to look to improve?

  17. I can still remember my first real leveling as an arms warrior in early vanilla (back when there was absolutely NO hit rating for gear below end content) and I can still remember using terrible abilities like that.

    I came from RTS games and my only real MMO-type experience was Diablo II. I saw rend, sunder, demolishing roar, and thunderclap and their respective damage/debuffs and assumed I needed to have those on my target at all times to help me kill things faster. Granted this was back when you got Mortal Strike at level 40 and had nothing but Heroic Strike (on-next-swing attack) to do real damage, but I can absolutely understand how you would want to use all of your abilities if you don't understand the math and mechanics involved in DPS.