Tank vs dps, round 5

Lono commented yesterday that he feels the hard mode flashpoints in SWTOR are overtuned, with the ‘hard’ part relying mostly on boss enrage timers. What this means in practice is that that the group needs to provide more dps, which means that it’s the dps who get the extra difficulty. He proved this by healing a hard mode successfully in his offspec and with dps gear (ie. the requirements on healers were very low).

I’d concur with this. We’ve run Black Talon in hardmode successfully, but in Boarding Party we couldn’t get past the first boss (it’s the group with multiple elites). So two issues:

  1. a tuning issue, some of those hard modes are either overtuned or are tuned with the expectation of specific types of dps and
  2. the difficulty isn’t spread across the roles evenly

My perspective is based on playing a dps juggernaut, and I’ve had some experience at playing melee dps in WoW so I don’t believe  lack of dps is down to my incompetence. It could be that the instances favour ranged dps over melee, or that juggernaut dps isn’t up to scratch, or that I’m not in full PvP or raid gear, or that my guild mates are rubbish (which they aren’t). However, groups in SWTOR only have 4 players so if an encounter IS favouring one type of dps over another AND is tightly tuned then they need to fix it, because otherwise it’s making things too hard if even one of your dps is ‘the wrong type.’ And personally, I’m not going to sit around whining about being forced to PvP to get gear upgrades to run instances in, I’ll just quit or play an alt once I feel I’ve given it my best shot and it wasn’t good enough.

It’s also confusing to the player base when the gear requirements for raids are lower than for flashpoints, and if that was intended then it’s something that needs to be made clearer. I have strong feelings about this from TBC when tanking heroics (if you weren’t playing a druid so had access to good crafted tanking gear) was absolutely horrible until you had Kara gear.

Tobold has taken this opportunity to throw some hate at dps players and snarking about lack of responsibility. This is just bizarre to me. So much hate. I have no issues with tanking, and spent a lot of time doing it in WoW. I’d probably be tanking in SWTOR except that we have a fair few tanks already and dps  are needed, and I know fine well what my responsibility is as a dps player. Do so many tanks and healers really hate the dps players that much? I don’t recall that I ever did – well maybe the really rude guys in random PUGs but that’s because they were really rude.

Maybe I was jealous that I had to endure gearing up from raiding to tank heroics where they could just hop in as soon as they hit level 70 (this is TBC, remember). That was in fact still a tuning issue, and it wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now even if this time it’s the tanks/ healers getting the easier ride.

But on another level, he’s not seen how the emphasis has been shifting to dps in WoW over the last couple of expansions. More enrage timers, more need for top dps just to be able to clear normal mode raids, more raids failing because they have good tank and healer players but can’t get the dps … it’s been a trend. (Not a good one, I hasten to add. I think with X good players of any role you should be able to clear a raid/ instance where X can be less than the total if it’s not absolute cutting edge end game.)

Existential angst of a new dps

1. Hurrah, run our first 25 man raid and made some good progress on Magmaw.

2. Boo, I’m about several light years behind the feral (cat) druids on the meters.

As dps, you’re largely looking to the meters to measure how well you are doing (with appropriate mental adjustments based on whatever else you were doing in the fight). So if you’re lower down, you’re going to start wondering what you can do better next time. That’s normal and perfectly fine. But what if it’s just a class design issue?

I’m not sure how well I‘ll get on with playing dps in raids if it means settling for a lower position and hoping that Blizzard decide to balance the dps out in their own sweet time. I generally prefer feeling in more control of my gameplay/ performance. I don’t know if I want to play a game that’s biased so that I can’t ‘win’ … or even feel as though I’m in the running.

This is very different from tanking or healing where, as long as my class COULD handle the content, I knew I could learn to do it. There might be whining if some classes had an easier time with fights than others, but it wasn’t this demoralising, “What’s the point in me even being there?” feeling.

dps players, how do you stay motivated to keep going when you know your class is behind others by design?

Ancient roles, and non-negotiation in instance groups part 2

Back in the day, some character classes were known as group friendly classes, and others were solo friendly. The group friendly ones were typically tanks, healers and support classes and they usually had fairly poor dps and were slow at soloing. The others were the dps classes. Group friendly classes asserted their importance in groups because … they couldn’t really do much outside groups. Their whole game depended on being needed in groups. A solo archer could happily knock out the odd level or two, a solo healer was a joke. People used to take pity on their guild healers by helping them ‘solo’.

It’s worth noting this because the idea that tanks and healers are group oriented and dps are solo oriented is rooted very deep in the history of MMOs. This didn’t stop them all being able to work together as a group when needed, older games also had group content that required this. On the other hand, older games also had more downtime so people had time to talk, to discuss their roles, and so on. Plus groups used to go on for hours – it was more a case of camping a location until people got bored rather than going through a directed instance.

So what does this all mean today? Just that if no one wants to talk in a group, then the default position is for people to fall into traditional roles. Tam argues that tanks have some kind of divine right and the only way for dps to assert themselves in groups is to do something dickish. (I would argue that using phrases like divine right is encouraging people to feel oppressed when it’s really just a stupid instance group that doesn’t want to talk to each other.)

But how should decisions be made in a group where the majority don’t care, don’t want to talk and (presumably) just want to get on with it? Standing around trying to decide while the people take the opportunity to each express their own individuality by pulling random trash mobs is probably not going to please anyone. Although who knows … maybe that’s the way the genre is going?

A more pressing issue is simply that some people really do prefer to run instances at different rates. There are definitely players who would be more comfortable chatting for a couple of minutes before each pull and who feel disempowered by the whole LFD/ PUG experience. You won’t see them much in LFD because they either avoid it (probably the correct answer — much better to go with friends who use that style) or sit through the whole thing uncomfortably cowering in terror.

[Guest Post] The first three seconds

(Salanna is a mage who runs in the same raid group as Spinks, for her sins. Her hobbies are drinking, setting things on fire, and reminding tanks of their own mortality.)

Hi. So, Spinks is away, and has rather unwisely turned her blog over to other people. People like me. A mage. Spinks situates herself in front of the boss, helmet on, shield up, perfectly placed and nailed there with tent pegs, whacking the boss with a fishing pole to show how hard she is. I’m just inside her line of sight, zapping four kinds of hell, with nothing between me and the world but a blue bar, the 130% aggro threshold, and my chef’s hat that I forgot to take off before entering the instance. Tanks taunt the boss, but mages taunt the tank.

Now, about that aggro threshold. Spinks and I, we have a funny relationship with that. This mage, see, has been working on improving my own DPS lately. A DPSer’s trade is never fully mastered, of course, but I’ve had my share of catching up to do. Now I’m not going to get stuck into the whys and hows here – there are plenty of resources for that – but I spent a good while following all the good advice, and it wasn’t clearly helping. Couldn’t work out what was wrong. I was beginning to think that I needed to hit the buttons harder.

Then I started paying attention to the very start of the fight. You know the bit. The tank has no rage yet, they’ve maybe landed a sunder, they’re moving around trying to position the boss so it doesn’t insta-kill the clothies – and those same clothies just let loose. The boss goes on a rampage, the raid leader emits an audible sigh on teamspeak, there are general exhortations in /raid to give the tanks time at the start without naming any names, and we all ress, rebuff and try again. All for the want of one second’s worth of patience from the DPS, on a fight where we’re nowhere near the enrage timer. Absurd, isn’t it?

Except. That’s the one moment in the fight where everything is aligned for those DPS. Particularly for a class like a mage where mastering your role is in large part about maximising the use of cooldowns, the start is the only place in the fight where all the cooldowns align. The macroed abilities (and mages do like to stack their macros), weapon procs, trinkets with mismatched internal cooldowns, more often than not a Bloodlust – this
is where they all stack, and stack multiplicably.

Which means that if you fluff that part of the fight, you’re not just missing out on a couple of seconds valuable damage time, but you are missing out on the highest potential damage per second in the entire fight. If you don’t keep up here, there is nowhere else in the fight that you can catch up. For a class like a mage with its many cooldowns, the difference does seem to be astonishing – in the right fight it can be the difference between being in
the top third and the bottom third of the meters.

I discovered that the rest of the effort I’d put in before was making a difference – but until I got the beginning of the fight just right, any improvement was getting lost in the noise. I had lost the race in the first ten seconds and could no longer make a sensible comparison.

Which gives me to wonder if this is an intentional design. Competition between DPS is a crucial part of keeping the overall DPS of a given raid group good and healthy. But when the difference to the outcome of the encounter is so small – there are very few fights in any given raid these days where a couple of seconds off the enrage timer is the difference between success and wipe – it seems absurd to put this level of tension between the DPS I reckon it is deliberate at least in principle, if perhaps not fully intended to have turned out the way it has. I can see that there is, and should be, a benefit for DPS and tanks who get to know each other well.

Asking the designers to remove that benefit is unlikely to be successful – and rightly so. But I suspect that how it has turned out in practice is, at least in part, a victim of the funny scaling of threat versus damage. Right now, this problem is bodged by non-tanks who help with threat by means of Tricks of the Trade and Misdirect, and nowhere is that help more important than the start of the fight. But this takes some responsibility for one of the most intricate parts of the fight away from the tank, leaving them with another five minutes of “three-stacks-taunt.”

That’s not a good thing. My raid’s tanks are all great, experts at what they do. I want them to be able to show that skill. I don’t want them to feel like they’re taking the place of an adequately buffed voidwalker. But I’m caught directly between showing proper respect for the tank, by giving them the little time they need, and showing respect for the raid as a whole, by learning to up my DPS.

So Cataclysm will cure all ills, right? Well, maybe. If the level of tension today really is a result of 64 ilevels of threat vs. damage, then it’ll benefit both from the gear reset and from the developers’ work to try to address that scaling in future. Both the risk of pulling aggro and the consequence of it is likely to be lower in a first tier Catclysm raid than in the end dungeon of Wrath; and DPS’ dependence on nailing the first few seconds of a fight will be lower thanks to the proportionately smaller procs and buffs at that tier, so the pressure to ride the edge will be eased. I reckon the measure of a successful outcome here will be if that tension between DPS and tanks can be ramped up a bit over the lifetime of the expansion, without having to resort to outside hackery again, and without sending us all back to Outland to farm the materials for Subtlety enchants for our cloaks.

Who is the most important person in your group?

One of the great things about well designed team games is that every single member of the team can feel important. They each have a part to play. If they play their part particularly well, they can see it make a difference to the team.

And that’s good because, for self-esteem, everyone likes to feel that they were contributing. (If you aren’t in the team for self esteem then what you mostly want is everyone else to think you were contributing while you actually find somewhere quiet to hide at the back, in much the same way that I used to pick my position in the school rounders team.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the boost to self esteem from running in successful groups is one of the reasons people enjoy grouping so much in games.

I’ve seen a lot of blog articles and forum posts since the new dungeon finder came out explaining how the writer and their class/ role single-handedly can carry a group. I’ve read posts by smug tanks, healers, and dps explaining how it doesn’t really matter what everyone else does, because they are the sole reason for success. And I think … well, OK, but they can’t all be right. Can they? Even allowing for people playing with rose-coloured blinkers.

If the team game is genuinely good, then each member of the team should have a chance to shine. That means it shouldn’t always be one team member who has to shoulder the burden. So probably it’s right that everyone sees this differently and feels that they personally carry their groups to victory.

From running instances recently in WoW on different alts, I changed my view on this. (Note: this does vary based on different encounters, different classes, and different games but I think it’s interesting to compare how in control the different roles and classes can feel.)

As a tank: Yup, I control the run. I can make it smooth and easy as long as the other members of the team are vaguely together. It won’t matter if all four of them are undergeared and inexperienced, I’ll make things work. It might feel like hard work at times, and I can’t always make up for a really incompetent healer – although I have soloed a few bosses from about 20% to dead in the past couple of weeks. If the group is bouncy and insists on pulling way too many extra groups, I can probably handle it although it’ll make me grouchy. If anything goes really badly wrong with a pull, I can pick it up as long as I get some heals along the way.

So yes, I feel pretty much in control as a tank. If the group is good, I can find fun things to do to keep my interest. I can step up the pace, or give myself marks out of 10 for getting all the mobs in a pull on top of each other when I use shockwave, for example.

As a healer: I almost always feel useful, but I never really feel that I am carrying a run unless something else has gone catastrophically wrong, in which case I still need the tank and dps to be doing something about it. All I can do as a healer is buy them time. I can make up for poor dps to some extent by simply not running out of mana before a boss dies.

So I don’t really understand where healers feel that they can single handedly pull things together. The only way that happens is if everyone else has failed horribly, which isn’t really that common. If the group is really good, it’s quite dull to heal (which is good if you want to sit back and farm some emblems). If not, it can be extremely exciting with plenty of chances to shine – when you spin the random dungeon you don’t know which you might be getting or how quickly a group can switch from one to the other.

I don’t feel in control as a healer, but I don’t heal in order to feel in control. I heal when I want a break from that and want to just chug along behind the group and sling some heals around.

As a dps: This is where I changed my mind after having pimped up my Death Knight to the point where I can talk my way into TotC and ICC PUG raids and have people asking to put me on their friends list afterwards. (6.5k on ICC trash yesterday, I don’t even know how that happened!)

As a high powered dps, I do feel that I am a powerhouse in groups. It barely matters what the rest of the group are doing, I will kill things quickly, can pull annoying mobs into position, have some crowd control, and can even tank in a pinch. So I feel really useful in runs where things are going well, but also really handy in an emergency where everything has gone pear shaped. Plus, even if all the other dps die in a fire, I’ll make up for them in boss fights.

I don’t control the run, but I have a lot of power over the more important side of it – the bits that involve mass slaughter of innocent mobs as efficiently as possible. If the group is good, I can always try to beat the other dps on meters. It may partly be the Death Knight, which feels incredibly potent as a character, since I don’t remember feeling like this on my warlock.

I don’t know which role I prefer, because it depends on my mood. I do like having the options available though – only possible for me because I’ve been playing WoW for long enough to have a few geared alts. But I do find it funny that so many people feel as though they are the most important person in every group they run.