Changing attitudes towards crowd control

Crowd control: the ability to take at least one enemy temporarily out of the fight by use of mind control, hypnotism, a cosh over the head, crazy transformation spell, rooting them to the ground, freezing them in ice – it’s as old as Dungeons and Dragons itself, which makes it rather older as a concept than any MMO.

In Rift this week we ran another 5-man instance in guild. This time it was King’s Breach, and when settling down at the start we discussed which abilities and offspecs people had available. I mentioned I could do some crowd control as well as dps, and so did Pewter. The rest of the group reacted positively, “Great, two crowd control spells available, let’s rock.”

This is part of the whole old school feel of Rift, because in my experience, as soon as people get more focussed on running dungeons quickly, CC goes out of the window. This is mostly because if you have strong (*coff* overpowered *coff*) tanks, healers, and dps with strong AE, then it’s just much faster to burn all the enemies down at once than it is to kill them one at a time with CC.

I was reading WoW forums this week and I saw a new argument against the use of CC in instances:

The thing about CC is you are doing it for the Healer, no one else. One mob less dealing damage makes the Healer’s life easier. However, for tanks (and DPS to a lesser extent), CCing makes their job HARDER. Making sure not to break CC distracts you from doing your proper job.

I think this shows part of the influence of LFD. It’s not so much about the group picking a tactic as, “oh, we only use CC if the healer needs it.” This makes CC sound more like a crutch in PvE than an interesting and valid tactic in its own right.

And more importantly, it means that if you do get a bad pull or an unexpected patrol, a quick thinking CC player is wasting their time, because the other players will either ignore it or simply not recognise the crowd control spell effects.

Why can’t everyone tank? (aka What if everyone secretly hates me…)

This is a thread that caught my eye this week, and it’s from a dps player who is explaining that he’d have more fun if he didn’t have to wait around for tanks and crowd control.

I just realized how stupid the idea of tank is when I played with some dudes in ST, the tank left for some reason and we continued to play while waiting in queue for another tank. After we cleared half of the dungeon, eventually some tank finally showed up and everyone agreed that “the fun was over”.

And that is true, this game is turning into a middle age women match 3 game, where you do everything nice and steady, healers sleeping in the back, dps pushing bored their one or two buttons macro, and the tank who is actually the only one who plays the game and when someone makes a mistake he has to take all the blame.

A lot of responders in this thread thought that the original poster was trolling, but I don’t think he is. He just had a lot more fun in a group where they didn’t have to worry about tanking. He even gets bored as dps when he has to wait for the tank to mark and call CC and then just go kill everything in the right order.

Blizzard mentioned in last week’s developer chat that crowd control will feature more highly in Cataclysm instances than it did in Wrath (i.e. not at all.) And … the big issue with crowd control, even more than tanking, is that everyone hates it except for the guys with the crowd control spells. In every single game I’ve ever played which featured crowd control, gamers did everything they possibly could to bypass that system. And yet, one of my favourite classes to play from any game ever was my sorceress in DaoC, which was a crowd control specialist.

I don’t hate crowd control as a tank, it adds a level of strategic interest to handling a pull. But I have also gotten quite used to not being forced to rely on other players to let me tank an instance. And given the general nastiness of some dps in random groups, I’m not dreadfully enthusiastic about trying to force crappy mage #335 to remember where his sheep spell is. And let’s not even start with the fears. Or with the spectre of people kicking group members from random groups because they don’t have enough crowd control.

But we’ll deal with that bridge when we come to it – maybe a greater need for cooperation in instances will get people talking. Maybe people will adapt. Or maybe people will dump the LFD in favour of guild and server groups again. We’ll see.

But still, I also have fond memories of crazy groups in other games where we didn’t have a tank but everyone had heavy armour. It wasn’t completely without tactics and mobs did have to be bounced around. But it was fun. This is key – however much we talk about intricate strategies and learning curves, it’s fun to cut loose.

I also thought the comment about the middle age women match 3 game was interesting. He doesn’t like the puzzle aspect of organising a pull, and PvE has traditionally been a puzzle game. You have to figure out how best to pull some mobs, and how best to kill them. And how best to clear an instance and achieve any instance objectives.  But how many people would actually rather have an action game – say, Diablo — than a puzzle game? I love puzzles, and it’s very key to my enjoyment of PvE and of tanking.

Oh no! What if it’s me?

I’m paranoid now. In every group where I’m tanking, is everyone else fuming silently and thinking about how much more fun it would be for everyone if I wasn’t there? Do they all wish that they could get instant groups without having to wait for a tank? Do they wish I wasn’t being bossy when I yell at them for pulling shit randomly? Oh god, does  this platemail make my bum look big?

Maybe everyone does secretly (or not secretly) hate tanks. The comment, “tank who is actually the only one who plays the game”, rings very true. Even with crowd control in the group, it was the tank who told everyone else what to do, which mobs to control, and which order to kill. Would the game be more fun for more players if tanks didn’t have that level of authority/ responsibility? Or didn’t exist at all? And then I wonder some more about Diablo, and whether Blizzard might be planning some MMO type functions for it.

Knockback Man, thank goodness you came!

Imagine the fun we had in the Halls of Lightning yesterday.

The group started with the familiar ‘gogogo’ call of the hopelessly incompetent dps (a shaman in this case), so I headed off to gather up the first couple of pulls at about the same speed as usual.

All goes well. We head down the slope to pick up a few more mobs. I see the first boss with his adds approaching – I consider whether we could take all of them plus the group at the bottom which I hadn’t yet pulled. I decide that this group probably isn’t high enough dps for it so draw back a bit to wait when ….


Suddenly ‘my’ mobs all fly backwards in random directions. Naturally one of them pulls the boss (in empowered mode, of course), plus the extra group. I think … something … and go pick up as many as I can. Some of the ranged guys run off, shoot a few arrows, and then run after the healer. He runs in the opposite direction whilst still managing to type ‘omg keep aggro’. I can barely see where the rest of the mobs are due to having a huge and arcing boss in my face but I suspect some of them may be out of AE taunt range. This proves to be the case.

A wipe ensues. And as per usual, while I’m yelling at the misbegotten shaman who dared use an unauthorised knockback on my mobs, everyone else is yelling at me. My husband is yelling at the shaman too but he isn’t actually in the group, he’s just watching over my shoulder.

Imagine for a moment that you are a game designer and you have been challenged to invent a new ability that will really really annoy every tank in the game.

How do you do it? Think about the tank’s job in PvE, then think about how other people can make it more difficult. If there is a random element, even better.

  • A misdirect that sends the monstie off to smack a random group member? (My burglar has that in LOTRO.)
  • A castable shield that removes all threat from the tank? (That’d be a paladin special.)
  • An amnesia spell that just resets the monster’s threat table? (My sorcerer had that in DaoC.)
  • The ability to teleport a monster away from the group in a random direction? (That’s City of Heroes.)
  • Or maybe an instant AE nuke which also flings all monsters away in random directions at the same time? (What is this I don’t even …)

Knockback is the epitome of anti-crowd control, allowing a hapless caster to create chaos where once there was order.

Thunderstorm in particular is a dreadful example of game design. It’s an instant AE nuke, also gives some mana back to the caster, AND knocks back the enemies in a random direction by 20’.  This means that it mixes together a few abilities that a caster would really want to use, and a side-effect that will make everyone hate you in instances. Tanks will hate it because they inevitably lose some control, plus there is a good chance that at least one of the mobs goes flying into another group. Also there is a special hidden aspect to Thunderstorm which forces shamans to use it JUST as you hit shockwave so your best AE threat ability is completely wasted and now on a cooldown while the monsters run wild … 20’ away in random directions.

But all is not lost, there is a glyph of thunderstorm that PvE-ifies the spell. So you get the same damage, more mana, and no knockback. It’s also a great example of how glyphs can be used to customise spells in interesting and useful ways. That should be a win, right? Well, it would be a win if the PvE version of the spell was the default, and people had the option to glyph for the PvP/solo friendly knockback.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Because otherwise that was a neat and player-controlled way of letting spells behave differently in PvE or PvP situations. But the non-PvE friendly version should never have been the baseline.

All that means is that clueless players wander into groups, toting spells that are guaranteed to piss off the rest of the group and with side-effects that have no good place in group content. A 20’ random AE knockback is very very rarely going to be useful in a group.

I could imagine games where this would be less of an issue. Where chaos in PvE is the order of the day. Where tanking and healing abilities are more spread and players are more self sufficient, so spraying a bunch of monsters around just makes it easier for people to pick separate targets and bag them. But WoW is not that game.

Spells with multiple effects

One of the hallmarks of more recent iterations of WoW abilities are new spells which do multiple things. Shockwave, for example, puts out some damage, a lot of threat, and also stuns mobs.

Warriors have a lot of fun with Shockwave. It can be used to hold a group in place briefly while you charge off and grab another set. It can be used purely for the threat, with the stun as a side-effect. It can be used in PvP purely for the stun, with the damage as a side-effect. Producing more than one effect makes the spell more flexible and more group friendly, not less.

Also there are very few occasions where the side effect is problematic.

Another example would be lifebloom which heals like a regular HoT with a burst heal at the end. So in TBC druids could choose to either stack the HoTs (rolling lifebloom) or let it bloom. Again, not an ability that would ever hinder a group but the extra effect makes it more flexible and fun to use.

And the knockback abilities can also be great in the hands of a skilled player. I’ve seen Blastwave used to knock mobs back towards the tank, for example.  But not every situation is knockback friendly. So really the caster needs to be able to choose when to use that side-effect, not have it tacked on to a spell that is part of their core dps rotation.

Knockbacks used right

Warhammer Online had some great notions for knockback. And in that game, tanks were given many of the CC spells.

The knockback was intended to let tanks throw an enemy away from a more vulnerable group member in PvP. And throw people into lava in Tor Anroc, an awesome PvP scenario featuring narrow paths r around pools of lava which was roundly hated by every class which didn’t have a knockback and loved by every class which did.

What the devs realised is that knockback is a PvP ability, where maintaining perfect control of a pull is less important than ‘get it off me right now!!!’

Crowd Control — the marmite of MMOs?

Playing a class with crowd control in an MMO has always involved tension with other players. No one likes having CC used on them in PvP — players really do dislike losing control of their character, however briefly. But there is also a resistance among the playerbase to CC in PvE, a hostility that I don’t really see towards any other role in the game.

This is partly because using crowd control to kill a group of monsters is probably slower than just about any other way you could think up. Players look at the ‘kill them one at a time’ option and then eye up the ‘could we just kill them all at once instead’ side of things. If a game has effective area effect attacks and tanks who can hold threat on multiple mobs, it’s clear which the faster kill method must be.

Even where designers nudge players towards the ‘one at a time with crowd control’ plan, players gripe at feeling forced to have that CC in the group. It’s bad enough to be forced to need a tank and a healer but limiting one of the other spots to a crowd controller seems to really ramp up the difficulty of sorting out groups. Even in a game like WoW where most of the dps classes have some kind of crowd control, players (aside from the CC classes) really didn’t like the added complexity in group forming.

What it boils down to is that tanking tends to become the preferred method of crowd control in PvE except when people are soloing. WoW exacerbates this with the small group sizes. In a group of 5, it’s a struggle to form groups when three of those five roles are fixed. Also some versions of CC are trickier to apply than others,  so players prefer the more reliable types and Blizzard never seemed to feel the need to equalise CC spells in the same way that they did with tanking.

I know this is one of the reasons that I enjoy tanking in game. I always loved playing crowd control classes, especially when they had multiple different types available. One must move with the times.

Do you like playing crowd control classes? Do you hate crowd control in games? Is crowd control really only fun for the person who has that ability?

Learning from Watching Others

I feel inspired to start today with a failure story.

My first MMO was Dark Age of Camelot and my first character was a minstrel. It’s a jack of all trades class with a bit of melee, a bit of buffing, some stealth, and some crowd control. The crowd control was a single target mez (it’s a sleep spell) with a short range, and you had to play a little song on your flute to make it work. When I first started playing, I tried this out and figured out very quickly that it was rubbish. I mean, the mez broke as soon as you hit the mob. Plus if anything hit you while you were playing your flute song, it didn’t complete.

So if people asked me to do it, I just explained that it wasn’t very good.

Later, I was in a group with another minstrel (this didn’t happen often, it wasn’t that common a class). And what do you know, he started tootling away on his flute and dancing around during the pull and sure enough, one mob got mezzed and stayed mezzed. It was a revelation to me.

He was actually even better than that because with all the dancing around, he could mez 3 mobs ON HIS OWN before they even got to us. And I was like “Um, I’m a bit shit, aren’t I?” (I didn’t say that though. I just thought it.) And sure enough, a couple of months  and a lot of practice later down the line saw me doing the same thing.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Now this is what emergent behaviour is all about. Someone thinks of something new and tries it, and finds that it’s cool. Other players either read about this, or see someone do it. Then they try it for themselves. The new tactic catches on. And it’s purely because of something that players learned from each other, not something the game instructions explicitly told them to do.

But for this to work, you do have to be willing to watch, to listen, to read, and to learn from other people. It’s also how you learned most things as a child.

And it’s more fun and immediate if you witness it first hand, just as I did with the uber minstrel in DaoC, than if you just read about it or see it on a Youtube tankspot video. Those things are good, but they don’t smack you in the face the same way as actually seeing someone else do something cool.

Things I learned about raid leading last week (from watching other people)

My quest to get more achievements for my alt without having to put any effort in continues. Last week I snagged For the Horde! and Heroic: Twilight Assist, both in pick up groups from trade chat.

PvP Raid Leading:

The guy who led the PvP raid would be a familiar name on my server and faction. He organises a lot of world PvP, city defenses, town defenses, attacks, RP PvP events, and so on. So he’s very used to grabbing a bunch of inexperienced PvPniks and steering them to some semblence of success, zerg-style. And to those who mock zerg PvP, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The raid itself was good fun, we met our goals, got to fight a few players on the way, and here’s a few tips I picked up on PvP raid leading:

  1. Make sure everyone knows where the raid is heading next. What’s the next objective?
  2. If people die, give clear instructions for what they should do. Should they res and run back? Should they res and wait for a summon?
  3. Keep the instructions basic. Keep the tactics simple.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go back for people who got lost, just make sure everyone knows what is going on.

I was especially impressed at how well he communicated the instructions for if people died. Everyone always knew whether they should run back or wait, and where the raid would next stop to summon people. It kept the momentum and stopped people from panicking about how they’d catch up with the rest (this tends to happen a lot with zerg raids – if people lose the zerg, they panic.)

It was a very relaxed, chilled out experience. And no small part of that was because the raid leader was relaxed and chilled out.

Oh, Sartharion! PvE Raid Leading:

Anyone who leads a PUG PvE raid has my greatest respect. I don’t make a habit of it, and as a result I’m really not used to leading a bunch of people of varying skill, experience, and who may or may not give a shit about the encounter. So I’m really bad at gauging the capabilities of a PUG. In this group, we were taking down Sarth+1. Our dps was not stellar. Our tank failed on all three basic jobs of “just keep its head and its tail away from the rest of the raid, and don’t get caught in the fire wall either.” But we got Sartharion on the second attempt. So here’s a few more tips:

  1. It’s not over till its over. Don’t give up too soon.
  2. This includes if someone makes a stupid pull. Just calmly call out the kill order and let the raid deal with the extra mobs. If you’re going to wipe, might as well die fighting. See rule 1.
  3. Trust your gut feel. If you know your raid can make the kill, don’t be dissuaded from trying again.

So this raid was pretty much a study in tenacity and the raid leader trusting the players to handle unexpected incidents like pulling an extra trash pack, or the dragon tail swiping the raid (although I am bitter about being tail swiped while I was about to get out of a void zone).

What have you learned recently from watching someone else play?