December 23, 2008

Create Heroic Moments In Group Combat

Tobald has written a post lamenting the fact that healers are so often blamed for a wipe in MMO boss fights:

...So once I'm able to cast spells again, I find all 4 group members seriously wounded, and not close enough for a Circle of Healing. I do my best with Prayer of Mending, but need a lot of time to keep the tank alive, during which the dps are killed. I keep the tank up for a long while, but with just the two of us we finally wipe. And of course the dps guys blame me. Why didn't I heal them, yadda yadda yadda. I try to explain, but they won't listen.

Healer Responsibility

Tobold's teammates seem to be jerks who were tossing blame around unfairly, but I think this is a great example of how player behavior is a direct result of game design. In most role-based (i.e. tank, healer, nuker) group content, tanking and healing are simply much more unforgiving than other roles, and healing is often considered the most stressful role to fill.

Just as game designers are held responsible for anything that makes a game unenjoyable, healers are ultimately held responsible for any player who dies. People don't want to hear about the mitigating circumstances that stopped you from doing your job well, they just want you to do it. If a dps player does too little dps which causes the fight to go on too long and the group to wipe, not many people will correctly diagnose the problem. In their minds, the healer still "should" have saved them.

Tanks and Healers are often called on to correct mistakes, and will be blamed more than other roles. Even when other players could have helped by using crowd control or standing closer to the healer, Tanks and Healers stand out as the scapegoats.

Create heroic moments for other roles

I don't think the solution to this problem is to make healing easier, but to make sure that other players are presented with do-or-die moments where it's their responsibility to perform certain duties or be blamed for a group wipe. Many games have already introduced moments like this for tanks, such as additional enemies who spawn and need to be taunted, bosses who randomly change their target from time to time, etc.

In most MMO groups, roles such as controllers or nukers almost always outnumber tanks and healers, but those roles aren't often given their big moment to make or break the fight.


Ways to challenge DPS/Nukers:
  • Several weak enemies that share a health pool or constantly heal each other, requiring AoE attacks.
  • Enemies that are invulnerable or very resilient until hit by a crit or a very large burst damage attack. This could be a moment for a DPS class to save their special attack for.
  • Enemies that regenerate health at a constant rate, requiring a coordinated effort between 2 DPSers to take them down.
  • Enemies that do more and more damage over time, and must be speedily killed before they become too dangerous.
  • Enemies that have especially high effectiveness at low health, and must be DPSed quickly through that stage.
  • Enemies that heal their friends, become enraged, or otherwise punish the player if they are hit with a lot of damage from a single attack, encouraging DoTs and fast hits.
Ways to challenge Controllers:
  • Enemies who can't be hurt but must continually do damage to stay alive. Root, snare, or hold abilities can incapacitate them long enough to deprive and kill them.
  • Extremely strong enemies who begin weakening the moment they enter combat, and must be kept alive but controlled for some time before fighting them.
  • Enemies who become enraged or otherwise immune to taunt at certain times, and can only be contained by control powers.
  • Enemies whose cast times and attack speeds are directly affected by snare and slow debuffs, meaning controllers should always be applying as many slow effects as possible.
  • Enemies who decide to self-destruct at low health, with a self-destruct power that damages both enemies and players. Controllers can quickly contain them to prevent them from running at a teammate and to funnel their damage toward other enemies.
Note: These challenges should be generalized enough to emphasize what game mechanic the player is using, not what specific powers they are using. Stick to broad categories requirements like burst damage, sustained damage, any snare power, any control power, or any AoE power, rather than a specific debuff that only one class can dispel.

Give every player a chance to be the hero or the scapegoat, from an early level, and players will not only learn to be better players, they'll be more involved and satisfied, and have better stories to tell people about your game. If you're lucky, they may even become a little more empathetic toward their tanks and healers and the pressure they're under.


Jarra said...

Fantastic post!

Very good ideas. Thank you for sharing.

Shalkis said...

Of course, the way to kill healing enemies is not AoE, because AoE does 1/3 of the damage of direct damage spells and thus you'll never overwhelm the healing. Focus fire is the best option for taking down healers, because you can pick them off one at at time. Also, DPS classes played properly do not "save" anything: The very definition of "nuking" is using your strongest attacks. Aside from skills like Execute or talents like Molten Fury which activate at 20%, the DPSers have few means to increase their DPS output, because they're already expected to function at the maximum level.

Gruul was initially intended to be a challenge to DPSers, but Blizzard made a design error by externalizing the punishment for low performance. If your DPS on Gruul was not enough, it was the tank and the healers who had to pick up the slack and survive for a few extra Growths.

Finally, the DPS graph profile is something that the DPS specs have little say on. If your spec relies on big crits (like pre-TBC Deep Fire or current Frostfire, avoiding big crits is simply not an option if you still want to provide the performance required. And again, the common externalitities of group dynamics dictate that it's the healer, not the DPSer that gets the punishment.

Case in point: Reliquary of Souls, phase 2. The aura mirrors all damage back to the source, so the only effect was that small hits and DoTs were easier to heal through, but as soon as a DPSer with a spec that relied on big crits (like a destro warlock) started doing his job, the spiky damage profile was too much for healers to react on. A mechanic designed to challenge the DPSer suddenly becomes the healers' headache.

If you want a real challenge to DPSers, look at Jin'do the Hexxer: You have the skeleton zerg, the shades, the totems, Jin'do himself.. and sometimes even a hapless mindcontrolled teammate. The tank or the healers could do nothing if the DPSers kept focusing on the wrong targets, were sluggish or didn't conserve their mana. The right amount of DPS to the right target at the right moment was the key to victory.

Mike Darga said...

Thanks you two.

Shalkis, those are some great points. With regard to the AoE groups, you can enforce that more if you like by actually sharing a single health pool between all the mobs. If you attack one, health will then start to flow into that mob from all his friends, and he'll be impossible to defeat until you've done the entire group's worth of health to that one mob. Hurting all the mobs at once is the only way to quickly succeed.

You're right that healers and tanks will still be blamed if the consequences of DPS mistakes manifest themselves slowly or much later. People are much better at learning from mistakes if they are identified immediately, and in this case that realization would come in the form of immediate bad consequences.

If you wanted to be really emphatic that certain things are not healers' fault, you could save up punishment and mete it all at once: in your example, the destro warlock plays badly and then blames the healer. If boss were to reflect all damage given, but in one lump sum every few seconds, that warlock would end up being oneshotted, a situation the healer can't be expected to respond to. This is probably too much of a punishment, but it is possible to address any design problem in some way or another.

As you point out, some classes have only one type of damage profile. For this sort of thing to work well, you'd have to specifically place certain enemies that are catered to burst dpsers in the same room with some catered to slow, steady dpsers. Ideally, if your game had enough combat mechanics like this, you could justify giving every player some quick weak attacks or DoTs, as well as some bigger burst attack.

You could also tune some critters to look for not a single big hit, but a large amount of damage in a short period of time, say 1 second. Now dpsers, even if every one has the same damage profile, can either coordinate on a single target or spread out, as a given enemy requires.

Not all of these solutions will work for every game, and certainly Blizzard may already be taking things like this into account in some of WoW's fights.

Thanks for the feedback!