Monday, September 29, 2008

Learning boss fights by other means than reading

Read tactics before the raid takes off! It’s one of the basic not-to-be-broken rules. Before a raid you always do the three R:s: you Read, you Repair and you Refill your reagents and consumables. It doesn’t matter where you are in terms of progression; it’s just something you do.

The strategies from Wowwiki and Bosskillers are so commonly accepted, that if you’re pugging a raid, you expect that the tactics suggested there are the ones you’ll be following, unless someone has a really brilliant other idea and some pretty convincing arguments for it.

But reading isn’t the only way to learn. And it isn’t necessarily the best way. In this post I want share my view that we sometimes put to much attention to the written descriptions of the boss fights and that we should look for other ways to increase our knowledge.

Learning styles
In educational matters, you talk about different learning styles. Some people learn better by seeing, others by hearing, others again by doing or feeling it with the help of their senses.
Do you know what kind of learner you are? If not, there are tons of websites about this, many of them offering free self tests. If you’re curious, this is a good starting point, providing links to many test sites.

I always considered myself a reader, but at least one of those tests suggested that I may learn things better aurally. And when I thought about how I act in the game, it did make sense. I’ll give you an example:

When I switched guilds a month ago I also switched arena for my raiding. I had to quickly get the idea about a number of new encounters. So I read about them, but found it pretty hard to get a clear picture of what I was to expect in my head. It wasn’t until I spent some time watching videos – while talking to an experienced gamer, who commented everything we saw on vent – that I really got a proper understanding of the fights.

Learning by discussing
I think I’m not unique. You can read ever so many tactics on beforehand, but if we don’t add short explanation of the fight from the raid leader, many raiders will find it hard to apply the written instructions to the actual fight. There’s nothing as clarifying as when the raid leader puts a mark on him (so that we can see him properly) and quickly shows the positioning. “This is where you tank him! This is where you go if you die”. If you’ve done an encounter several times this is unnecessary, but if there are new people in the raid, giving this a few minutes will really save you some pain.

Sometimes there is no time for explanations and demonstrations. You need every minute you can get for real boss attempts. If you know this is what the raid will be like, and you tend to bang your head into the walls of text, without really understanding or remembering them, I suggest you try a new approach. Find a friend to discuss the fight with before the raid. Do you read the strategies the same way? Have you got the same set up as they or will you modify something? Explain the fight to your friend and you’ll learn it at the same time.

Learning by doing
Reading and discussing are great ways of learning, but in my opinion it doesn’t beat the third way, which is to practice. Learning by doing is very efficient, especially when you can do it out of the raid and save the time the entire raid has to spend on the learning phase.

The example that first comes into my head is the Archimond fight in Mount Hyjal. For you who haven’t been there, one of the crucial things about this fight is that all raid members need to master a version of slowfall. Every now and then raiders will be tossed up way high in the air. To come down safely they have to use a thing in their inventory – not too early, because the effect will wear off, not too late, since they’ll be smashed into the ground and dead. You get the item from a nightelf, and the wonderful thing is that he’s standing right next to a steep. So anyone coming new to this fight has a perfect opportunity to practice the tears clicking, to see how close to the ground you should be before using it. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read about it – it isn’t until you practice that you learn it.

Another example of fights that you can practice out of the raid situation is Gorefiend in BT, where you’ll be turned out into a ghost and expected to take down four mobs on your own or you’ll wipe the raid. The pressure if you’re the one who’ll get this random assignment is huge, but luckily enough there’s a free online simulator you can play to get the idea of what it is all about on beforehand. (Sadly enough I haven’t been able to beat that game yet, but I guess I’d be even worse off without it.)

Now it’s your turn. I’m sure there are some of you visiting The Pink Pigtail Inn who have been practicing raid bosses out of raids. What did you do? Please share your ideas about how you can learn raid strategies by doing rather than by reading!


Rohan said...

My old guild used to do "dry runs". For fights where we had to move together at a specific time, we'd practice moving together in response to raid leader calls before actually engaging the boss.

You can't do it for all bosses, but it was extremely helpful when we were learning Ragnaros ("Sons, collapse!") and Nefarian ("Nefarian landing, go tank and healers").

Gevlon said...

I've got a very effective learning way for positioning, familiarizing with the new scenery: I get myself an empty instance. If a more progressed guild cleared an instance, I can ask a member to invite me and others into a raid and zone us in. After that I'm saved to the instance and he can leave. I can walk the empty halls, check every corner, compare it with the pictures I've seen in video. Really helps.

Anonymous said...

I learn best by breaking.
I used to do systems testing on a project and it was the ad hoc testing that got the best results, as we Understood the system better. how particular things worked in relation to each other
and also how to fix the problems
I think that style also leads to more critical thinking ( hence test environments not live.) However because we don't send raiders into practise instances
I think the best raid learning is read - discuss - do

Alot of raid leaders in all their explantions of what to do when forget the most important stuff can be broken down very simply - eg the Arran fight in Kara. Flame Wreath DONT MOVE. Arcane - Run to sides, Blizzard - Run to middle ect ect. Long winded discussions can cause people to tune out..

Anonymous said...

Very nice article. :)

On the Gorefiend fight... I practiced that simulator until I could reliably beat it. Now I just have to figure out how to beat them in game... :)

Anonymous said...

@Rohan: that's a good idea in fights where positioning is crucial. It may sound silly but once the fight starts it's really easier if you sort of remember it through your body memory as well as in your mind.

@Gevlon: wow, I never thought about that! It's a wonderful idea. Especially for players like me who have no sense of direction whatsoever. I can get lost in ANY instance, I assure you.

@Pugnasciouspriest: I think you're right. We sometimes make things too complicated in the long ranting explanations, either its written ones or spoken ones. Keep it clear. Keep it simple. And point out a few important things, not the details. I think that's wise.

@Avonar: thank you. I always imagined the simulator was worse than the real situation, perhaps it isn't... Then I'm in trouble. :(

Cassini said...

Hi! Re. the Teron fight. That simulator is pretty tough. I never managed to beat it even once. The real fight however is cake. As a frost mage it's even easier as it's almost second nature - just think of it as this: Frost Nova / Spam Ice Lance / Repeat! Don't worry you'll be fine. :)

Handy hint for mages at Archi too - you can blink out of the air at any time - you don't even need to time it as you would jumping off the Aldor lift for example! Mages should never, ever have to die from falling damage! :)

Back to the actual article, I find that whilst reading about the fights is fine, there's nothing better than actually doing them. The way I see it is that reading the tactics first makes sure you have a vague idea of what's going on and when. The first time I encounter a new boss it's nice to take your dps role a bit more easy than normal and watch what the other people are doing.