Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scrolling Combat Text, and why it might be hurting your tanking.

...Or why I'm not Data from Star Trek.

If you are going to find one theme to take home from across all of these blog posts, I think it's going to be this:

"Know your limitations."

What does this mean, in the terms of today's post?  For me it means that about a year and a half ago, while tanking Ulduar, I figured out that I'm human, and that's ok.  Like I'd mentioned in my previous post, I tanked a lot of heroics, and smattering of ten mans in BC, and I really started raiding as a priority in Wrath.  Through all of BC, I used the default UI *shudder*, and honestly didn't think much of it at the time.  Sure, I had like, Omen, and Recount, and DBM, but that was it, and it was cluttering the crap outa my screen.

Enter Wrath of the Lich King, and I was going to get serious about raiding.  So I started watching videos, on Tankspot, etc...   And I marveled at how AWESOME everyone's UI's looked.  I started collecting addons, and crafting my UI.  I fell into and out of and back into love with IceHUD.  I learned the difference between X-Perl and PitBull.  I eventually learned how to use Viewport addons like Sunn - Viewport Art and BTex and haven't really gone back.  I also noticed that a ton of the videos and a ton of my friends, were all using Scrolling Combat Text addons, such as MikScrollingBattleText, and I thought "Hey, that's really cool, I'll try that out."

It was AWESOME, seeing all the health getting taken off my character, and all the heals coming in, notifications of EVERYTHING to do with my character, and the DAMAGE!  Every Swipe, Maul Cleave, and Berserk Mangle were consolidated in a nice big CRIT that made me feel like a champ!

I also noticed something else, quietly, over several months of time.  None of it really mattered.  Do I really need to know when Mangle comes off cooldown? No, I see that just fine.  Do I really need to see when FFF comes off cooldown? Same answer.  When Trinkets become available? I can kinda already see that, I have them on my bar.

"Well what about damage and healing, Feranel?  Don't you need to know that so you can pop cooldowns?"

Short answer: No.

Long Answer:
My healers worry about my health, they worry about the damage I take.  I worry about fight mechanics, adds, and the boss.  I know when the Lich King just cast Soul Reaper and is going to try to pirouette behind me to donkey punch the back of my head, I don't need scrolling combat text to tell me that.  I know when Festergut has had three inhales and is dual wielding freight trains at my face, I don't need scrolling combat text to tell me that.

"What about when you don't get heals because the healers are dead/stunned or there's raidwide damage?"

I run with Healbot, everyone who tanks should run with some form of Raid Frames, between that and general awareness, it's easy to see when the whole raid just got punked by something and you should probably pop a cooldown because you suddenly aren't the healer's only priority.

Ok, so I've knocked on the notification alerts, and the damage/healing in, what else can I knock on about Scrolling Combat Text?

The worst part about scrolling combat text for tanking is the scrolling Damage Out text.

You know that really awesome thing scrolling combat text does where it consolidates your AoE damage into one, really cool looking number?  Awesome, you know your swipe/thunderclap/blood boil/hammer hit REALLY hard, you know what it doesn't tell you?  Which mob you hit for what.  Or which mobs parried, or dodged, or blocked, or were missed.  The Default Floating Combat text actually does this just fine, take these two images:

So this first shot is as I've described, ton's of stuff going on, and a pretty little Thrash Crit right on the side.   Awesome, I look like a pro, my Thrash hit hard.  You will notice this thing tells me how many hits I land, not how many were avoided, and when it does, it won't show who did.  You can also see things have come off cooldown, if my actionbar glowing at me didn't tell me that already.  Lots of information coming on the damage/healing in side as well, good to know, if  you can follow it.

This second image, here, is interesting, in that right on the screen there, you can see I was Parried by one of the mobs, specifically, the one right in front of me.  That tells me that I don't have as much threat on that one as I do on the others, and in a purely AoE scenario, I should switch targets to put a lacerate or something on that.  It sounds pretty elementary, but there it is.  Default floating combat text will display the number or alert above the mob's head, indicating to you what is going on where.  For me, this is a very powerful tool, and one that I had come to rely on, even when I didn't know it.

It was in the middle of Phase One Thorim when it occurred to me, where, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out just why I was sucking at tanking the Arena.  When it hit me that it just didn't feel right because I couldn't see who I was hitting for what.  I turned off Scrolling Combat Text, and it was like the whole world snapped back into place. 

Another thing you will notice in the above picture with default floating combat text, is that I do not display Healing or Damage in.  For the reasons I've mentioned above, it is just too much.  As I said at the begining, I'm not Data, I'm just human.  I simply don't process that much information simultaneously, I'm your average young American with ADHD, and I know that.  One of the key goals I had in mind with making my UI was to make it simple, clean, and clear.  I want as much viewing space as possible on the battlefield, so I can infer as much from the encounter as possible.  Namely, I need to be able to see the mobs and players on the screen, and what they are doing.  I don't need to process all of that extraeneous information to do that, I simply need to see the mobs, their nameplates, and how much I hit the mobs for so that I can estimate how much threat I've dealt to them.

In the end, and to recap a little, if you are going to take away anything from this post, let it be this:

"You aren't superhuman, and that's OK.  Acknowledging that your limitations exist and working with them can make you a better player."

So for everyone that plays with information overload, and can process it just fine and perform better and faster than everyone else, I'm going to paraphrase something that Esteemed once said to me: "Grats, you're a baller, not everyone is as smart as you."  To everyone else, who maybe has experienced something similar, or has read what I've written and thought in the back of their head "maybe it is a little too much," I encourage you to try playing with some of the information turned down, and spread out, and see if that speeds up your reaction time and increases your performance.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions!

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