Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Could someone make the dummies less dumb, please?

So, I’m back at the dummies in IF, doing my homework, struggling to become the swift, quick footed quicksilverish player I’ve always dreamed about to be.

In my imagination I can see myself running around like one of those buzzing rogues you see in the BG:s, just as quick, annoying and painful to meet as an enraged wasp.

I would be constantly on my move, at the same time mysteriously enough being able to toss off my 3-sec casting time nukes without stopping up at any point. (Don’t ask me how it’s done, but others do it obviously, so why not me?).

To be honest I’ve got quite a long way to go before I reach my goal. It’s so distant that I sometimes wonder if I’m not just lying to myself with my mantra “you can learn anything if you just determined enough”.

Tobold’s reflections
The other day Tobold had a post where he made a reflection about the combat system in WoW, and I found myself nodding, recognizing my own issues. Tobold calls it rather twitchy and says that the outcome of a fight often depends more on speed and reaction time than on tactical decision making. This suits teenage boys with a ton of experience from fps games better than all those middle aged people, who actually constitute quite a large proportion of the player base.

This post got quite a few comments, of course. Many readers want to declare the superiority of mouse turning compared to keyboard turning. And they also think the game would be less fun for many players without this feature. It would be too slow, too easy. But the best comment is actually from Tobold himself, where he highlights how the new player is introduced to the game.

“So why is there keyboard-turning in the game in the first place, if that is so "crippling"?

What use is first offering different control modes to your players, and then telling them: Ha, ha! Gotcha! Only one of these control modes is actually useable! If you chose the other one, you just gimped yourself and you'll have to start over!”

I’m totally with you on this one Tobold! I feel cheated. I had no previous experience of gaming when I entered Azeroth, so how was I supposed to know that one way of steering my toon was far inferior to the other one? Now I’m facing the painful and time consuming process of relearning. It feels like such a waste and I can’t help wishing I had gotten it right from the start.

The dumb dummies
But no matter of what relics of the past such as Tobold and myself think about it, the game is designed a certain way, and it isn’t likely that it will change shortly. Keyboard turning is OK if you think conquering the AH market is the most fun thing WoW has to offer, but if you’re a raiding junkie like me, there is no alternative but to adapt and learn how to move.

However, what I would like to see is a better tool for this than the dummies that are currently offered. Since I spend quite some time running back and forward in front of them, I naturally start to reflect upon their appearances. And I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t only look stupid. They ARE stupid.

The dummies may be great for running live tests to check if Recount confirms the optimal gear set and spellrotations suggested by RAWR. But it’s not great for improving your hand-eye coordination, swiftness, reaction time and moving-while-casting ability. Not at all.

I try to picture that I’m not facing a defenceless, immobile statue, but something else that forces me to move. I pretend that this is the first boss in the Thorim gauntlet, randomly throwing fire at me, and that I have to move from side to side constantly, while still constantly nuking, counterspelling and switching targets. I imagine that I’m at Hodir, I’m just about to get an iceblock in my head and I must find the buffed guy or at least a decent beam to stand in – asap. I try my best to put myself into the right, stressful, adrenaline-pumping raiding mood. But it’s quite hard to be honest. When you don’t get any feedback on how you’re doing, like if you’re getting hit by the fires or not, how can you tell that you’re getting better at what you’re doing?

What I wish for
What I would like to see is dummies that give you an opportunity to practice and improve on your playing skills in somewhat challenging situations, without risking death penalty and repair bills as you get if you’re doing it on real mobs. What I want is the combat situation as such, without any loot or benefit from it, and therefore also without any punishment or cost for failure.

They have taken steps in this direction at the jousting area, where you first learn to joust at dummies that will try to hit you, but which won’t kill you. I’d like to see a development of this, but much more advanced (and not involving riding a vehicle).

Imagine there was a dummie that sent out a randomly rotating beam, resembling to the Mimron one. If you got hit you would see it, either by a hit-counter, stacking up a “buff”, or possibly by losing health, as you do in a duel. You could go down to 0 health, but never die. It’s a dummie after all, so no penalty. Another dummie could have some randomly appearing ability you’re supposed to interrupt or dispell. Maybe you could add a few “adds” around this dummy, allowing you to learn to apply a focus target and quickly switch targets.

I remember when the dummies were launched. They were certainly a huge improvement compared taking the long journey to Dr Boom, where you also had some annoying adds walking around which you had to make sure wouldn’t mess up your session. But now it’s time to take this idea a step further. It’s time to give people like me and Tobold a chance to improve ourselves without risking corpse runs or the ridicule of other players.

Dear Blizzard Santa Clause, please add this to Larísa’s wish list for Cataclysm!


Klepsacovic said...

In PvP you can enter BGs or arenas and die. Or you can duel people.

In PvE you can fight all sorts of NPCs and raid bosses and even the terrain itself (gravity is OP). Why can't I duel Kel'thuzad?

Elnia said...

The live dummy of which you seek is called dueling.

Jormundgard said...

Ah, but Larísa, you assume it's in their interest to make content easier...

gnomeaggedon said...

The dummies you are looking for are in the Argent Tournament grounds...

Nooo.. not the other players (although that may be argued)....

Their NPC opponents.

Throw yourself in the middle of the jousting grounds, and help all the other players take down their jousting opponents.

They will love you...
You will get lots of experience handling LoS, range and multiple mobs.

Ranjurm said...

"The dummies may be great for running live tests to check if Recount confirms the optimal gear set and spellrotations suggested by RAWR."

Actually, they are terrible for this. Besides the fact that debuffs, buffs, and movement are not there in anyway consistent with what a raid would have (I guess you could rope 9+ people in for testing but why not run a raid then?) but the dummies themselves don't follow the same rules as bosses for some reason. For instance the boss dummies, despite them having "skull" level they are a static lvl 83. Many formulas like resists, armor, etc don't match up either making the testing give unreliable results. And finally, they're public making testing subject to the whims of passer-byers.

It's just a nuisance to the theory crafting community that the dummies are continuously cited for a 'new discovery' when it's only due to their buggy nature. Sadly the dummies are only useful for testing proc rates and practicing rotations.

Rem said...

Regarding controls:
Funnily, even in action shooters like the Quake or Unreal Tournament series, where it is absolutely and utterly impossible to compete keyboard-turning and absolutely everyone strafes, the default keybind pre-set will still have your "side keys" set to turn. Go figure!

Regarding dummies:
Although I would wish myself for more, well, interactive practice dummies, I also think that would not be a good thing.

While dummies are a good way of just trying out stuff you can't do out of combat, the "real" experience should come from, well, real experience, because that is, arguably, what the game is all about. Especially if you would make dummies behave too similar to typical raid bosses, you'd be instilling a culture where a raid assembles and then doesn't head to the instance, but the Military Yard instead, where they would practice until they zone in for that one perfect shot.

I might be guilty of bringing extreme examples again, but the thing is, that extremes do occur, especially in massively populated environments.

Gevlon said...

You can find such dummies in any BG at Sunday-Saturday midday-early afternoon. They move, cast randomly and there is no penalty as they couldn't kill you if you were AFK for a cup of tea.

Everwrath of Silvermoon said...

@Elnia - It's not duelling.

Duelling is nothing like a simulated boss fight. Players don't leave void zones. They don't have long cast spells that show you exactly where they are targeting. You either interrupt them or get behind a pillar.

I'm hoping that one day, combat training could resemble more real-raid simulation with options to enable different boss abilities. Maybe even an achievement "I'm pretty darn good" for surviving for 2 minutes with every ability turned on.

What's my main Again? said...

Have a mage friend randomly cast blizzard and or flamestirke near you and on top of you. This will give you practice of moving out of void zones and what not.

Certainly not perfect and I wish Bliz would create a raid simulator or gauntlet trainer for aspiring raiders.

Larísa said...

@Klepsacovic: well, I can fight all sorts of NPCs, but what I'm looking for is a training ground where I can do it without the corpse run and repair bill. And practice on certain raid abilities.

@Elnia: I think duelling is very valuable for increasing your awareness and movability, but I don't think it will give all the training I'm looking for. and it also requires you to find some partner who's up for doing it over, and over again. What's the fun in killing Larísa a gazillion of times?

@Jormundgard: I don't know if my suggestion really would make content easier`? It would give players means to improve their skill, but that's not quite the same thing.

@Gnomeaggedon: yeah, I'll get training, but I'll have to spend time on corpse runs and gold on repairs. I don't think you get quite what I'm looking for.

@Ranjurm: good point! Thanks for the clarification.

@Rem: I see your worries, but still I think it's kind of cruel to the not-so-experienced or skilled players who want to improve. They're bound to be picked on by others, guilds will frown upon their poor performance, thinking that they're carrying those players. Contrary to Gevlon I don't think all those poor players are M&S. Why can't they get the chance to improve themselves without being a burden to others?

@Gevlon: as I said above, PvP is certainly good for your gameplay but it's not quite the same as learning to master a certain gimmic that raid bosses have.

@Everwrath of Silvermoon: agree! thank's for the support.

@What's my main again: once again a suggestion that requires you to have other people around willing to sacrifice time to help you out. I would prefer training opportunities I can do on my own, without having to bother other people too much.

Hatch said...

WoW could use a lot more in-game training for the situations you will actually encounter at max level.

Cap'n John said...

It sounds like what you want is a Combat Room not unlike that in which you might expect to sometimes see the Batman or the X-Men.

Of course in WoW they could call it a Training Room and offer different scenarios, different types of bosses, raids, encounters, etc.

Do you want to practice Tanking? Against how many targets? Choose your scenario and see if you can hold Agrro on targets being burned down by NPCs. Want to practice Healing? Choose that option and you'll get to practice Healing a 5-man group (10-man Raid, etc) as they take on a Boss, several Trash Mobs, etc.

It could certainly be an interesting addition to the game.

We Fly Spitfires said...

I guess because I grew up with computers and video games, I never questioned the "twitch" aspect of them so it's interesting to hear about games from other people's perspectives.

What would be really nice in WoW is some sort of assault course that players could compete in to help hone their skills. If they made something that was very accessible and had no rewards or tokens or anythign like that, then it would be a really good place to just and have fun and learn new stuff with your friends, guildies or random strangers :)

Thistlefizz said...

@Everwrath of Silvermoon
I totally agree. Dualing can't even come close to simulating what a boss--raid or otherwise--might throw at you.

@Cap' John
Aside from a few concerns about implementation (Would it be instanced? Would we face more "additional instances cannot be launched" issues? etc), I think that would be a great idea.

The bottom line is that the dummies are just too dumb. This is the 'ideal world setup' I would vote for:
An instanced 'training-room' that you could enter and choose the opponent you wanted to face. Want to take on Kel'Thuzad? No problem. Eager to test your new spec on King Ymiron? Just click on his name in the list.

Maybe if you went in by yourself and you wanted to practice tanking it there would be 4 other NPC characters that would be part of your 'group'. You could pick generic characters from a list and bam! You have 3 dps and an healer ready to go!

..That's probably a little to over the top. Maybe all we need is a dummy that would actually *react* in some way by hitting us in the face or throwing a fireball at us or fearing us into a giant group of whelp eggs...

But whatever they do, I agree; Make the dummies less dumb.

Thistlefizz said...

@Cap'n John

I must have had a brain fart when I read your post and missed the second half of it 'cause I basically said the same thing you apologies for restating what you said. But it's a great idea that I clearly agree with.

akiosama said...


Great article, as usual. (And I don't mean that to sound condescending - your articles are USUALLY great!) I agree with many of the points you've made, especially about the 'not knowing there's a better way to do it'. Ignorance is bliss - but is not necessary the best way to do things - but it's bliss because you don't know that it's not the best way to do things.

Where I must comment is about the tools being used out there - Recount and its cousins. I believe that our Big Bear Butt blogger out there has had at least one article on the subject, pointing out the negative contributions such an addon can create to the gaming environment. It becomes a DPS contest - who can put up the highest - rather than a game based on the success of the group. I've had my guild master, who is a very competent Mage, complain about her DPS even if she's putting out 4K in Uld25. Why? Because some other Mage beat her in DPS. (Never mind that she did more total damage.) Because she had to sacrifice DPS to do other things for the raid, such as uncurse. (Never mind that the decursing she was doing helps the healers and the raid as a whole get the job done.) Because she was 5th in total damage overall. (Never mind the fact that she's competing with various other classes, especially ones like DKs, who get white damage as well as yellow damage on their books, while Mages must press a button for each damage ability they use.)

And so on, and so forth. (My mistake the other day? Introducing her to Now she's got a new obsession.)

Do I look at those numbers, too? Sure. Do I get disappointed when mine aren't that good? Absolutely. Do I obsess about being #1 all the time. No.

I know I'm not the best at what I do - I work to contribute as much as I can, and it's been working out great. I put up decent DPS, SURVIVE (which is underrated by the Recount crowd), and contribute in every way I can to the raid.

Has that paid off? Certainly. I've blown myself up to stop a group of Scrapbots from being absorbed by Deconstructor in Uld25... and you know what I was rewarded with? A battle-rez. (It's probably one of the best indications of my improvement I've gotten on any raid, even the ones where I've been Top DPS on.) Oh, and we got Deconstructor down on the first try.

So, while mathematically there may be superior rotations and skills, I think that's all secondary to being able to use all the tools at your disposal. I see DPS (especially) who don't watch aggro, who don't watch their health, and who don't let up when problems like those arise, often leading to their deaths. What do those players tend to focus on? DPS. They don't even look at Total Damage, since they're not that high on there, 'cause they died.

And Recount supports that mentality, since DPS records for each character cease collecting when they die. So rather than seeing from a raid point of view that a dead character = 0 DPS, they look at the fact that during the 1.5 minutes they were up, they were putting out top DPS for the raid.

Personally, I'll pride myself more on being moderately high DPS and typically one of the last survivors, with high total damage.

Because then I know, I'm contributing to the raid as a whole. DPS is nice, but it's an individual stat. I much prefer to see the group succeed. Isn't that what it's all about?

And I also agree that while the dummy is ok for speed testing a spec/rotation, that only by running stuff will you know what you really can do. After all, except for Patchwerk, how often can DPS just stand there and full throttle, without many negative repercussions? Survival and knowing your abilities is far more important than just straight rotative DPS.

But that's just me.

Excellent post, Larisa. As always, I look forward to the next ones - and your patience with my long responses.

My 2 yen,


Larísa said...

@Hatch: thanks for the support!

@Cap'n John: I love the idea of calling it a training room and having different scenarios. That's excellent! Exactly what I'd like to see.

@We Fly Spitfires: yeah, I think it could be more popular than you would think at the first. People aren't quite as driven by gear rewards as we sometimes imply.

@Thistlefizz: Nice ideas there! But yeah, I would be happy even with less, ANY kind of improvement of the dummies would be a step forward.

@Akiosama: thank you for your kind words! Actually I think that Recount isn't to blame for the dps fixation some players have. You can check out so much more from it - such as decursing, spellstealing and other stuff. In our guild we rarely stare at the dps. It's the damage done that interests most people. But it doesn't tell the whole story. There are many other aspects as well when you're evaluating a raid.

Jokkl said...

keyboard turning:

easy way to get rid of it:

just put strafe on your left/right button so you cant turn that way and have to use the mouse... run around if/og for sometime and do some bgs that way...