Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Healing: Let's Get Rid of Unit Frames

Ixo's lost his mind. Unit frames are such an integral part of the UI that getting rid of them would be like eliminating action bars! Yeah, I got rid of that already, too. This is taking it from a healer's perspective, and seems to be a hot topic these days. Stylish Corpse wants to get rid of the 'holy trinity' altogether, and Melf_Himself has a post up over on Word of Shadow lamenting the fact that healing in the 'traditional sense' was a) touch range (not castable across the room), and b) usually done after a fight. Mitigation was king, and if you lived through an encounter, you got to heal afterwards. Heals now are spammy, but I don't really have an issue with that.

I have an issue with being pigeonholed into a corner of the screen, while everyone else is ooohing and ahhhing at the phase 3 transition.

This entire post is basically an exploration of an idea I've had in the back of my head for a while, and that solidified (a tiny bit) in my post at the end of the Stylish Corpse link above. While Melf has a point with 'ranged heals' and the spamming of heals, this is just where the game has gone. DPS no longer needs to worry about casting thier nuke once a day, they do it every global cooldown. Combat is faster and freer, and that's fine with me. If I could only jump once every 37 minutes in Super Mario, that game would be a drag. I like jumping. Penance is a fun spell. HoTs are meant to be spread around. Whatever.

The thing we want to move away from is having healers stuck looking at this:

...instead of this:

or --let's at least be realistic, no one sees Gruul's face-- this:

As long as the way to determine who needs a heal is a tiny little green bar in the corner of the screen, that's where those whose job it is to make 'full green bars' will park their eyes. This is the problem we wish to solve. So let's get rid of them. Throw them out, remove the hooks in LUA that allow for a consolidated raid UI (so that Grid and Healbot break as well, or nothing changes), and start fresh.

But how? Here's my idea:

We want healers looking at the raid. Do you even know what your tank looks like? I mean really? Not that his unit frame has a brownish color for his name (he's a warrior!), but what he actually LOOKS like? Let's find out, and actually keep an eye on him! I propose giving healers a 'focus' button that, when held down, will display misty auras around players in the raid. These auras are colored based on their health pool.

No aura (or perhaps white?) = 100%
Blue = 99-80%
Green = 75-66%
Yellow = 65-50%
Orange = 49-33%
Red = 33-20%
Pulsing Red = Brink of Death (under 20%)

This focus button would need to be playtested to see how it works in given situations. I like the idea that you hold it down and look for someone to heal, then target them, let go, and cast your heal (i.e. can't heal while it's held down). Target frames are still there. If you always have your one tank targetted, then you can just sit back and spam heals, but for spot healing it becomes a more active... well, activity. Suddenly being in a good position (while always important before, yes) is now crucial. You're actively out in the field looking around and running as you focus. Healing becomes as frenetic as DPSing.

If the 'holding down focus' thing is too lame ("I'm ALWAYS focusing, make it passive!"), then maybe it's a toggle type thing. You activate it whenever you want to, and can dismiss it by right clicking the buff. Thinking more about it, that's probably a better way of doing it.
Making it an always-on passive class ability would be annoying for classes that don't use it, though. Shadow priests and ret pallies won't need it up, for example.

Targeting becomes an issue, but it's a sacrifice to be made for liberating ourselves from the bottom left hand corner of the screen. We need to be actively choosing our targets during a fight, or tab targeting friendly players. This is the one big issue I see, but it all just lends itself (again) to being actively aware of your immediate area. Stand nearby those you intend to heal, not just "within 30 yards". Tell the DPS to not just lump up in a cluster if they expect to get healed.

When you think about it, during every pull DPS isn't presented with an easy to click grid of all available enemies. They either need to use their cursor, or tab target around the pack until they find that one mob with the X on it's head. Tab once - no that's the sheep - twice - no that's the next target - once more - okay, let 'er rip. Or just target the tank, and assist his target (the better solution). Giving healers a similar way of acquiring targets would free them from the box, and force them to get involved.

The point is that this would be such a radical change of pace that people would need to adjust. It couldn't happen overnight, and I honestly think it isn't anything that could be applied to WoW now (after the fact) without causing a huge fit of crying and complaining. It's more like something they should have done from the beginning, or could incorporate into the new game, as a paradigm shift for how healing gets done.

Plus, how awesome would it be for healers to say to the DPS "Yeah, it must suck that all you get to look at all fight long is that little bar in Omen. You should roll a healer if you want to see what's happening in the fight." ;)


Anonymous said...

This idea would kill me inside.

Sorry : /

Vads said...

First off, I enjoy reading your blog Ixo, since I discovered it a while back. Keep the creative ideas coming :)

Onto the subject though, my first thought after I read your entry was one of awesomeness, no more staring at green bars in corner of screen of 3 hours, awesome! And I have to say I like the concept but I see at least one problem, fairly big one.

I mean, how often do you see all your raid members on screen all at the same time?

I've not levelled up my healing priest and done raiding at 80 yet but I've done my fair share of raid healing at 70 and unless things changed drastically, emergencies are usually happening all over the place while you're stuck in the middle of it, with no overview whatsoever of what is going on.

It could work if we'd add like big fat colored glows on the screen edges indicating which way you got to turn at least to find the one who's getting maimed, but that too sounds like its going to just be too slow.

I really like the idea though, and I'd LOVE to see it as an interface option toggle to supplement the unitframes, and who knows. Perhaps this could work indeed in some way I've just not figured out yet.

Melf_Himself said...

I saved defending my post back on my blog ;)

As for this idea: love it. The reason I know it will work: Left 4 Dead does something quite similar. Not just for defensive health bars either, the zombies can know at a glance who the weaklings are to pull from the herd :)

I would suggest removing the blue from the color scheme, it would make it easier to interpret I think. Plus, some colors can be saved for particular types of debuffs if desired - for example in Left 4 Dead, survivors that have been vomited on have purple outlines to the infected.

As for the off-screen issue: how do people get your attention in real life when you're not looking at them? Simple, they make sounds. In Left 4 Dead, you can tell if a Hunter or Smoker or Boomer has bagged your team mates by the sound that is made when they get hit. Additionally, the team mates automatically yell stuff like "Ahhh get it off me! Get it offffff!!!". It would be easy to make particular sounds chime in when someone within your 'hearing bubble' reaches a new threshold of health, at the least.

I'm not a big fan of the 'indicators' idea, Vads, as it adds things to clutter the screen, which runs a bit counter to the clean UI you stand to gain from the colored outlines.

Rich said...

emergencies are usually happening all over the place while you're stuck in the middle of it, with no overview whatsoever of what is going on.

I think this is honestly a reflection of how easy it is to view the entire raid as a whole in a 5x5 square. If healing presented more of a challenge for healers to acquire their targets and actively notice everyone's health pool, fights could be tuned accordingly. There would be no more "raid wide AoE"... there only is *now*, because it's so easy to realize it's happening and react.

As it stands, no one specs lolwell, because it's a huge waste of the one single point in Holy. If DPS learned to "heal yourself god dammit, it's not as easy as it used to be" this might become a viable tool.

I'm not saying healing is trivial, I think it presents a good challenge, and I actually really enjoy doing it. I think it could be more.. interesting, is all.

Going back one more step again, DPS aren't presented with a neat grid interface of bad guy health pools. At any given instant during an AoE pull, they only see whatever they're targeting actively, and perhaps a second CC target in a focus frame. Why healers are given all this information at once is silly.

As far as decursing and whatnot, I had another idea I posted somewhere else where druids have an active "poison abolish aura" in a 5 yard radius around them (mages an anti curse field, etc). I'm not sure if i expounded on this topic in its own post, but the idea is that since a druid can abolish poisons, just make them immune (or it ticks once, then is dispelled)... the idea being that people take on the role of cleaning themselves, and it isn't some lame raid wide thing that a certain class needs to be on.

decurse heavy fights have the players strategically positioned in the first place, and anyone standing outside of their range needs to run to them themselves, and then go about their business.

it could work!

Anonymous said...

Top down viewable mode with no clipping? In all honesty, you can zoom into first person mode in WoW and it's only useful for screenshots. I've never met anyone who plays in first person mode. If they made 3rd / Top down mode for viewing, it would be immensely helpful, for all situations. Zoom camera out, you can see your raid, no need for guesswork judging if you're outside of your 5 meters so nothing chain bounces to you or whatever. You'll know when you're standing in a bad spot. I've fucked up before in raids JUST because I can't judge X distance to the exact amount. If I could only zoom out a little farther and get a better idea of things.

I like the aura idea. That plus a top down viewing feature would help healers feel more lively, and not just a bot to spam buttons.

Rich said...

@Trag: I almost feel like letting the camera go TOO far out would end up with the same problem. We're still just clicking on little colored dots, but now the dots are running around : /

I'm trying to make healing feel like DPSing. You run around and soak it all up. You need to be aware of your surroundings; but not focused on the mobs, focused on your teammates. If you can't see what you need to see from where you're standing, then MOVE.

the only time I realize people have moved out of range is when their unit frame greys out, then I need to actually look at the action for a second, move, and go back to whacking moles.

I'd love to just look at the action, and never look back away.

Khatib said...

You have a lot of interesting mechanic ideas, but I don't think any of them will really adapt to WoW well. WoW is just too "set" into how things are done.

Now if a NEW MMO was coming out with combat to be designed from the ground up, then a lot of these implementations would be sweet. But in WoW, just to make little changes like this would drastically change other little things, like Vads mentioned, having to be able to SEE who you want to heal, etc.

WoW just isn't going to see many changes, and especially of the sort that make things more physically/mentally challenging. They are constantly going lowest common denominator. Like removing shot rotations for hunters when WotLK came out. Hunters who were twisting their own rotations actually had something to do in a raid to try to excel. Now they just all mash one macro button, like everyone else. And WoW will continue in that direction for as long as they find ways to keep doing it.

Rich said...

yeah, i mentioned that it wouldn't be able to be 'shoved into WoW' at this point.

too many people would QQ and flood the forums with OMGIQUIT posts. at this point, it's just a general design theory.

I really do think that having TOO much information at our disposal (recount + omen + grid + proximo + whatever) is a hassle. It allows us to determine certain things like top DPS by hundreths of a decimal, but in the end it limits our enjoyment of the GAME. suddenly it's no longer okay to be a dps class, you need to be a ds class with 1704+ spell power capable of putting out 2372 damage per second. even things like the armory and /inspecting a player is really just ... too much. invite the rogue, and let's see if things die or not. i wish we could get back to a simpler approach to raiding.

Klepsacovic said...

Healers looking around? Crazy. What's next, they're supposed to enjoy the game and appreciate the time put in to design raids and instances? Madness.

Really though, I'd like to see this combined with melee healing, and then give healers an intervene-type spell (friendly intercept). Then healers would be less like situationally-blind sissies in dresses and more like Superman, flying across the screen and beating the life back into you.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea. But I think you'd also have to relax the requirements on healing.

Because it does take time to sort through auras/people in a raid in front of you, select the right target and then pick the right spell. I know I've healed in battlegrounds where I've targetted players manually in front of me as well as checking raid frames.

It's cool, but in a raid with everyone standing really close together, quite hard also.

I agree that addons like damage meters haven't really made the game much more fun for me. Like you say, I miss the times when you'd just invite whoever and stuff would die anyway.

Hatch said...

Ixo, 2 things:

-click targeting would need to be made waaaay easier and more precise. As it stands I only ever tab target because clicking is completely unreliable. Maybe as part of the visible aura around other players in "healing mode", both expand their hitbox to the aura and add something above their head that is easily targetable as well, or something.

-As a rogue, I spend most of my time in raids staring at my energy meter, combo point counter, and the countdowns on Slice n Dice, Rupture, and sometimes Hunger for Blood. I actually don't get to look at the game itself as much as I'd like either. That's probably unique to rogues (and kitties) and our mechanics, I guess.

Melf_Himself said...

Hatch - re: your first point - it would not need to be made more precise. People would need to learn not to clump up if they want to be healed. It would actually add more skill to the game if people have to worry about their positioning.

Rich said...

i realized after writing this that i can kind of fake it in the game right now. Shift-V turns on those big horsey green bars above people's heads, and I could pretend that there were no unit frames. I tried to actually heal a regular VH last night like this and it was awful.

Two things:

1) I can't shift click on the bars like I can on unit frames (clique), but that's just laziness on my part. I could select the target and actually hit 5 or whatever to renew.

2) the bars have VERY limited range on them. If someone is out of range, I effectively have no way of seeing if i need to run closer to them to get a heal off or what. If they had unlimited range (and were color coded like my auras, instead of big dumb bars), it might be better, but it felt hectic.

Change is change. I could grow used to it, but it was in interesting experiment.

Anonymous said...

As if finding a decent healer was hard enough already, now you expect them to handle gameplay that can't be done better by a short directX script?