Monday, March 30, 2009

Can I have a heal, please?

This article is the result of random musing at 2am. No, not all of my articles are random 2am musings, even if that's when they often get posted. This one is, though.

Healing is one of those hilarious concepts that persist between MMORPGs. The healer is sort of an icon in any MMORPG community. When a party fails for any reason, it is almost always blamed on the healer. When asked about how to fix the problem, most parties will chime in with "we just needed more healing." This contrasts with my view of most wipes, where I believe any problem can be solved with more DPS*.

*DPS = damage per second, or summarized as kill speed - If you're wondering why I'm defining this, it's because really guys, there are people who don't know what it means.

In most games, the healer is sort of the embodiment of the party. Being a 'good healer' is sort of a mark of prestige. Interestingly, most healers think they are good at it, whether they are or not. Even more interestingly, possibly due to the lack of people that like playing healers, most people think their friends who play healers are good, even if they suck.

Playing a healer is really dependent on the game, though. Some games don't have healers, like EVE (no, logistics ships don't count). Some games are really, really easy to heal in, like City of Heroes, and some games are harder to heal in, like World of Warcraft or EQ2.

I'm pretty sure any EVE-playing readers are throwing a hissy fit. There are no healers in EVE, imo, because there is minimal reaction involved in 'remote repair.' When fighting NPCs in that game, you have one guy fly in and everyone turns reps on him, and the reps do their job. There's never any 'catching spikes' or anything of that nature. Even in PVP where you have to actually pick which target to rep, ships take so long to kill in EVE that it's a matter of seeing "oh his life is sorta going down" and clicking on your reps on that person. If the opponent switches, you have plenty of time in most cases to react. Furthermore, if there is enough burst to take down one of your ships that you actually would have to react quickly, it would have taken a ton of ships all reacting to even make a difference. This is in stark contrast to World of Warcraft where a single priest can heal off the damage from multiple foes until he runs out of mana or gets pressured.

So in summary I don't think that non-reactive healing, such as slow, long-duration regenerative buffs, are actually healing. I also think that skills that don't heal at all, like Power Word: Shield (which prevents damage up to a certain amount) are more 'healing' than a regen buff that lasts for a minute and heals a few hit points each second. Sure, you're restoring lost hit points, but you're not actually actively playing - you're just clicking on your party members each once a minute. If you're really lazy you're probably only clicking on the tank.

I like healing that takes skill. If it's a function of the healer's reaction time to make sure a teammate lives or dies, that is interesting to me. It is really cool to see "spikes" that take a foe down in 2-3 seconds, and watch an adept healer deliver a fast heal or protective skill in between the spike hits just in time to save the teammate, who can be then healed up the rest of the way.

The reason why I think that is cool is because even though that sounds like I think healers should be a little overpowered, I actually don't think that at all. I definitely think that there should be strategies to defeat even expert healing. A good example might be spreading debuffs or damage among lots of teammates, so that the healer has to spend lots of attention or mana or both to heal it off. And even better is that the attackers that spread their damage can -then- choose to deliver a powerful spike, and the healer has his attention on many different things.

Other ways that are cool to mess with 'overpowered' healing is to incapacitate the healer. Control effects like fears, stuns, knockdowns, and so on can be used to ensure that your attacks hit home while the healer can't do his job. Pressuring the healer to force him to run away can also work. And of course, draining the healer's mana so that he can't heal also works.

As you can see, there are lots of cool dynamics to 'real' reactive healing. I really like holy paladins (holy specialization, I mean) in WoW for instance, because they have this really awesome gigantic heal that casts instantly but has a very long cooldown, like minutes long. Paladins can use that heal for offense too (it does damage if it targets foes, and lots of damage), so it's sort of an interesting skill to employ that ability at the right time. The paladin has to be thinking about the situation at hand, and whether he should use his big heal to smite a damaged foe who might get healed by the enemy, or save it to catch an incoming spike later on.

I'm pretty sure someone will ask, "who runs a holy paladin in PvP" but I have no idea about the WoW meta. I assume that someone will play it. It is actually pretty interesting, at least to me.

When healing is reduced to the intelligence of medics in StarCraft or priests in WarCraft 3, it isn't really healing. It's like having extra hit points without any of the thought process that goes into actually restoring them.

In short, I really like smart play in general. I like it when games reward me for playing well and punish me for sucking. If someone is more skilled than me, then they deserve to be rewarded for that. Obviously there are degrees involved, like everything else. A player who is very skilled should not be rewarded infinitely for skill - there should be a limit to how well one can heal or do anything else.

Imagine, for instance, if the only limitation was how fast you could click life bars? Certainly there would be a lot of skill because you would have to catch spikes and whatnot, but then healing would be too powerful, and beyond that, the game would be all about how good your healer is. If they can respond in 1/5th of a second, that might not be fast enough so you should time your spike to hit all in that 1/5th of a second. If they can respond in 1/8th, then you have to time your spike even faster, and so on. That's not so good because the skill barrier to be good is too high. If your response time is only 1/2 of a second you would be no good. So there needs to be a good balance between player skill, team strategy, and so on. So healer mana, cast times, skill cooldowns, and stuff like that are pretty important so that normal people have a chance to hone their skills and become good.

I think it's an interesting point of social dynamics to study the types of people that play healers. Most people that do tend to be introverted, very extroverted, or females.

The introverted people are very weird. Playing a defensive support character pretty much requires that you party, but introverted people are more likely to solo. But there is some interesting practicality in that a healer never has to look for one, and in a game where healers might be essential, playing one ensures you are always needed, and that people will come to you. This helps the introvert team, because otherwise he would probably not seek out groups much. Obviously most introverts play other things I think, but I also think there's a pretty large number of them in the healer professions.

The other main group is the extreme extroverts. When I say very extroverted, I mean more than a normal extroverted person. Most healers of this type talk all the time. A lot of them chat even while healing, which is extremely odd because one would think that chatting takes up a lot of mental energy, and thus it would be hard to concentrate on healing while doing so. However, these people somehow manage to heal very well, and often better than the 'average' healer. Most normal extroverts play a wide range of things, but extreme extroverts often play party classes because they party pretty much all the time.

As a side note, I'm an extreme extrovert, and when I type, I usually have the whole sentence chunked when I start typing it. This allows me to play a healer pretty effectively since most of my mental energy from typing is spent at the very beginning, when I am not worried about restoring lost health. From studying myself play, I clearly play better while I'm chatting. I have theories, but they are all crackpot and unscientific.

Anyway, the third group that plays healers are women. I have no idea if that sentence is grammatically correct. My grammar radar says it isn't, but I don't know how to fix it. Anyway, girls love playing healers. I know many girl gamers and almost all of them play some form of defensive support. Some people may think this is stereotyping and I am claiming that healing is the party's version of housekeeping or something. I am probably stereotyping but it what I am actually saying is hopefully not insulting to women.

Women like healing because it is the game equivalent of their internal cooperative prime directive. Women like working together to achieve some common end. They really like being a part of something important with other people. This is, from what I understand, basically hardcoded into the female psyche. Basically what I mean by this is that girls are a lot better at working together than guys are. Guys are naturally bad at cooperation. We tend to want to do things better than other people, and while healing is definitely something that takes a lot of skill, we tend to want to be better at manly things like making guys fall down or taking lots of damage. When someone tells us how we can do damage better, we tend to get pissy, even if they are right.

No, I'm really not kissing up to women, because of course there are advantages to chest-beating that they don't naturally have, but we do. It just means that we should only have one guy and a full party of girls in every party, and each team should compete against each other. Then when one team inevitably wins, the girls in the losing teams will be better at consoling the guy who had his ego hurt.

And the guys will never have to worry about not having enough healing!

*dodges thrown objects*

PS: Yes, it really takes me 3+ hours to write a post.

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