Death and the City

October 31, 2008

I am no stranger to the Grim Reaper (or whatever he is in the Warhammer universe) in WAR; heck, he and I have become poker buddies due to the amount of time I’ve spent in his realm, and I’ve asked him to be my kid’s godfather. Death doesn’t bother me — click, respawn, hit the healer (ouch!), get back in the game — but how I die does. Doing PvP in WAR is like playing tag with an invisible ghost; I plod along until something I can’t see taps me on the shoulder, and then I’m dead. Boof.

Oh, I’m getting hit. Hit for a LOT, apparently. Where is it coming from? Is it like manna from heaven, being freely given to me even though I did not ask for it? Is it the damage fairy coming by to bless me with hearty red numbers? I don’t know. Soon, I am dead, and the point is moot.

How did I die? As a guildie helpfully suggested, why don’t I just scroll up my combat log?  This is a problem, since it approaches Stephen King novel-size lengths in each engagement.   I could do that, sure, but my feeling is that I’m not paying by the month to do research after combat to figure out what happened. We depend a lot on visual cues in games to give us feedback on what’s going on. One-on-one combat is usually okay, especially with PvE mobs (who only have a couple abilities to begin with), but it seems to me that a lot of career abilities lack significant visual cues to help that move stand out and be recognized. This is especially bad when they’re long-range damage skills, and even worse when you have no idea who’s dishing it out (engage in zerg vs. zerg combat and you know what I mean).

A Witch Elf comes over to me, and even though I don’t see her do anything special — just a few knife thrusts — suddenly I’m dead. Did she use special abilities? Anything I could’ve blocked? I don’t know. A sorceress stands on a rock and waves her arms around. What’s she doing? Who’s she aiming at? No clue. She might be practicing cheers for all I know. A guy on my side heals me, I guess, because green numbers start flashing by me — but the little icons under my name are too small to see clearly, and I don’t have time to tooltip over them to see if an Archmage or Runepriest is helping me out.

This is why the skills that ARE very visually distinctive tend to be the ones players react the strongest to. It’s unsurprising to me how often my turrets are targeted by Destro — it’s not because they’re high damage-dealing machines, but because everyone a mile away can see me laying them down and see where the damage is coming from. Visual cue, kill.

Bright green stream coming from a goblin? Must be a Shaman, and now I have a new priority target. Large ugly purple circle on the ground (which a friend lovingly calls “cowpies”)? Get out ASAP, those hurt a lot. Big swirlie purple strings? Can’t be good to stick around those. The black raven over your head? You’re a marked man, my friend. A Runepriest’s moves are very flashy and distinctive, yet a Zealot’s tend to be flinging tiny flasks and hand waving. These are great visual cues that help out a lot, but unfortunately, there’s just not enough of them.

The end result is, really, mass chaos. That’s kind of fun for ten or twenty minutes, especially if you’re not being targeted for invisible death, but after a while I really want to know what’s going on, to be able to read the battle better. I’m sure some of that will come with more experience, or if I get that combat text scroll mod, but this needs to be looked at. I never know how far away I have to be to stay outside of someone’s melee range, and the lack of blood spurting on my person or flashy impact points give me little clue whether I’m getting hurt a lot from them at this second (and don’t even get started on combat lag, where people perform moves but the damage comes a lot earlier or later depending on the whim of the game hamster).

So that’s my plea. Continue to tighten up skill keys/responses (please, Mythic, tell me you’re not done working on that or the lag issue), and provide better visual cues for the battlefield.  RvR is fun, but give me the tools I need to become a master.

Of death.



  1. Hey Spy I feel the pain on the order side as well. Nothing says look at me, when I draw my bow back and let lose some arrows people follow them back to me and I become a target. How ever I have noticed when you die the last person to hit you usually shows up as your target before you hit the re spawn. at least it seemed that way. I found that name and killed them and I did get a revenge notification in my little black book mod. But I agree more indication of who is hitting you would be nice. Thou in battle alot can happen so it could be multiple enemies picking at you, in a coordinated attack hints the runing around and bang you drop dead as if some higher force just smacked ya to the ground.

  2. More cues would be nice, if they could do it without tons of particle effects that bog even high end machines down and create all sorts of memory leak issues. I can always tell as a healer who has turned off spell effects to help their framerate cause they’re the ones standing in obvious AoE dying faster than I can heal them and it even impacts PvE too.

    Another issue I see is that the much talked about time to kill in the early days (when everyone was in T1/T2 and thought it was much longer than they were used to in other games) seems to decrease significantly at every tier.

  3. If anything starts attacking an Engineer, it is usually over unless we can run away 😉

  4. I dont know about Witch Elves, but my witch hunter seems to give off at least a couple visual cues. One execution fires a bullet which, when it hits, makes a big red circle around the target signifying that BOOM youve been shot! And the Burn, Heretic! ability shows my guy pulling out a torch and then the target being doused in flames. But, most of my other combat abilities, and morale abilities just show me swinging my weapongs in a slightly different than normal fashion. (I would think the first morale ability would be a little more showey since its one of the heaviest hitters I have in my arsenal)

    As far as wanting more visual cues, I really don’t feel the same way though. If you want to single out a specific class its not real hard. Looking for their healer? pssst…its either the hunched over guy with the feathers, or the little green man with the staff.

    I can understand your plight with Witch Elves though….I really can. Being a Witch Hunter, my food of choice is Sorcs and…mmmmm yummy squishy Magus. The DPS classes will always go after healers and soft targets first and neing an engineer, you kindof have a target painted on you…ironicly since you have the gun.

  5. I agree on the fact that there is a lack to know when you are being targeted; however, most if not all of the ranged animations give you a straight clue of where you are being shoot from. For instance, the Sorcerer’s Doombolt is a big black/purple eating-flesh ball, and so forth.

    There is one thing though and you are right: you dont know who is targeting you until its sometimes too late. I am not sure if this is an animation though. It sounds more like some UI is needed to help on that issue, and it is the same for healing effects. Probalby some addons out there help improve this? im not sure, since up to this point I have been very strict in the fact of not using addons myself, but that might be the solution for now.

    And as a last note, when you are getting attacked by someone, don’t you automatically target the person that is attacking you? At least I’ve kinda noticed that. I might be wrong though.

  6. When you’re getting hit, the game will auto target the person attacking you. However, what good is that if you already have someone else targeted? In addition, what good is it if you die so quickly, you don’t have time to look for them. Or what good is it, if when you die, the respawn button says in very teeny tiny text who your killer was. Developers need to learn from existing games, as most first person shooters will zoom in cinematically on your killer after you’re killed, so you know where they hit you from and who they are.

    The problem in large scale combat though is that you often aren’t getting killed by one person but many and from many different angles. Therefore, how best to provide visual clues to do this. There’s probably a way but not sure how. For example, sure have a red reticule on the ground around your target and an arrow over their head. But what about attackers? Maybe an orange reticule around them and an orange arrow over there heads? Even more so, some better visual way to know which direction you’re getting hit from (i.e. red screen edge flashes from right indicate getting hit from right)?

    You are absolutely dead on about visual attacks being more effective than ones that aren’t as visual, even thou the less visual attacks may do more dmg. For example, when I played a Zealot, I always tossed up the quick dot that had the purple cloud animation on the target. Yes it does dmg but more than anything is does more psychological dmg. I’ve seen players reader for a rush back off a five or ten feet just because they were hit with a highly visual, although mediocre dmg, attack.

    As for reading a battle, I’m pretty decent with that. My only flaw is often overextending myself when I’m assuming my team is behind me (30 feet), yet when I die they are like 100 feet away. The problem of course is that I see an opportunity for an easy kill (i.e. two or three casters off by themselves), yet others don’t see them. Thus I’ll rush 30 feet forward to snare them and knock one down, yet my team will run backwards 30 feet to avoid their attacks, even though they could easily kill them if they rushed them. I mean I even remember a standoff once again five casters and our team outnumbered them with at least five melee DPS to boot. I had to actually yell at our team “Rush them! They’re just casters!” to get them to attack them and when they did, they killed them in like 30 seconds. Was pretty hilarious.

    Finally attack ranges are pretty straightforward, since the average long range attack is 100 feet. Thus as an Engineer, if I can target a caster with my gun, more than likely he can target me as well. Certain classes however can add bonuses to their range. For example, my Shadow Warrior can switch to a stance that gives an additional 10% range (although I need to test it again since it wasn’t working before).

    All said and done, what you are talking about here is usability (aka elements of good design). It’s the same things that I focus on when doing web development and the best book title I’ve seen on usability is one called “Don’t Make Me Think” and that’s exactly what it comes down to in a nutshell. “Situational awareness” on the battlefield needs to be relayed intuitively, so it can be easily absorbed and understood by the individual. If people have to manually do a variety of tasks themselves though, it only makes things more chaotic and frustrating, especially the larger and more complicated the battle.

  7. There is a damage meter on curse that I use. I does your dps out but a small graph that breaks up what is doing the damage like frag grenade and what the dps is on it. It tracks Your dps out and dps in with a small graph of what was killing you and what the dps in was. It does this for healing also. It great and I cant think of the name. Its small on the screen also until you scroll over it and it will give you the breakdown. It also gives your crit percent, hit etc..
    Its a really good addon

  8. Oh forgot to mention one last thing. Pet targeting, particularly through obstacles is one thing that definitely needs to be resolved in this game. For example, I often like setting up my turret behind a tree or rock, so as to catch the drop on an enemy until they are almost right on it. What my turret should most definitely not do however is shoot THRU the tree or rock, since it’s an obstacle. I have no idea why this happens because when I target with my Shadow Warrior, I’ve seen a skinny pole in the ground actually block my shot (which is overkill). So if they can have obstacle detection that extremely accurate, why can’t it be as accurate for turrets and pets in general?

    I mean if I’m on the battlements of a keep and I get targeted by a Magus daemon, as soon as I step off the wall, it’s targeting should be broken. Yet last week, I was getting hit by a daemon at a keep gate, yet I was standing by the keep lord (thus behind two or three walls). Was total BS.

  9. Found it, its an awesome addon. Its called CombatStats it’s on Curse.com. It requires LybSlash and LybSync. It didn’t work for me until I added those other 2. It should have everything you need as far as what killed you without going through your combat text.

  10. OOH OOH SYP!

    time for a new poll maybe? a.k.a. “What do you think of WAR’s visual cues for combat awareness?”

  11. Slurm, You see the big red circle (for example). But does your target? Heals from the healer’s point of view give lots and lots of visual cues (flashes, expanding circles of light, etc.) How often have you seen an effect of a heal hitting you?

    Unfortunately, letting everyone see all the flashes – not just those affecting you, but the ones that let you decide THAT should be a target or someone to avoid – will increase the particle cloud. Well, probably.

    Just a point of consideration.

  12. I don’t think that there’s a dwarf god of death. The Empire has Morr. Cemeteries are called “The Gardens of Morr.” Frankly, I could do with seeing less of Morr. Ba-dum-bump.

    To the meat of the article: yes, more visual cues – or even textual ones – would be a good idea.

  13. I found in RVR that a Champ or Hero from the other side’s warcamp will have been lured out in the open and one-shot insta-death you. In this case there will be no player named in the death bubble.

    As for tracking I always loved the Guild Wars UI. It shows icons (with rollover) of both what your target is casting and what just hit you as well. Nothing compares.

  14. You do not truly know pain until you have played a Magus. Not only are you not feared, and part of your DPS sticks out like a sore thumb (daemons), but you yourself are on a glowing hovering disc that makes you stand out and just screams “KILL ME! ME, OVER HERE, ON THE FLOATING, GLOWING DISC! I HAVE LOW-MID RANGE SKILLS AND AM SQUISHY! KILL ME!”

    Poor Magus.

  15. @ Kirk

    Good point! I have no idea if they can actually see what I’m seeing, I’ll have to ask on some forums and see if anyone on the destruction side can see it. I assume they can only because of all the destruction spell effects that I can be see currently.

  16. Outnumbered zerg on zerg forces one line to the defenses of their warcamp. Fun for the zerg-ers not the zerg-ees. Especially when there is PQ influence & loot to try and nab.

    I suspect that’s why scenario’s are so successfully popular, controlled number’s with bolstering normalizes the field and turns it into a class balance and strategy game, making it feel more like the ‘end game’ without the wild gear discrepancies of something like WoW.

  17. Witch Elves have next to nothing in visual ques, unless you’ve played one and know the animations. The “waving her blades around” is likely (with full frenzy) a six hit finisher that if combined with a Kiss (which is should always be) probably means massive ownage. But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t see the animation a hundred times a day. The only flashy thing I can think of that we have is one of our Viles (7 second, 60s cool down abilities) has a shiney red bubble around us that means you should not do multiple hit abilities for 7 seconds because we’re damaging for 100+ every time you hit us.

    … why am I telling you this? Every time I see an engineer I check to see if I’m beating up on Syp. Disregard everything I just said! Red bubble means “Hit me”, flashing daggers means “How about coming over for tea?”. Go with it.

    As a sorc, I’d have been really happy to have a visual que for the “take damage every time you move” thing WH do. I had no idea it existed for the first week and a half I played. Once I knew of it I simply stopped moving all together when a WH leaps out at me because … yeah, I don’t have time to mouse over a tooltip to see if that’s what he just used on me.

  18. I am alone in know what I’m being hit by, by the sound that it makes and the graphics that emanate from my abused body?

  19. I have a similar problem. I don’t mind dying at all. I just can’t stand how in this game I’ll be fine one second.. followed by a slight pause in the game I think might be a system hiccup.. and then I’m looking at the rez button. I’m not sure if it’s just a lack of visual cues, or something with how the game performs on my system despite having 4 gb ram and a near top of the line video card. I suppose it doesn’t matter if I get killed in the matter of less than a second anyways, but for some reason it’s just added aggravation not being able to tell what the hell just happened.

  20. I just downloaded the Duff buff/debuff add on from curse. It shows (separately) your buffs, your debuffs and (separately) your targets buffs and debuffs. Kinda helps…

  21. Guild Wars has several neat ways to deal with the “WTF WAS THAT” moments.

    A small part of the screen is filled with the names of recent skills that damaged you, and how many times you’ve been hit with them over a short time period.

    Additionally, you can actually read the names of skills as they’re being activated, and read their descriptions for a few seconds afterwards.

    They also tend to consolidate visual representation of buffs and debuffs as much as possible. For example, there are several skills that each apply the “crippled” condition, which reduces move speed by 50%. So if 5 people cast 5 different types of snare on you, the end result may be that all you see is the icon for “crippled”, as opposed to in WAR where you’d see 5 different skill icons, ugh.

    Also in the same trend, a buff/debuff on a character is indicated with a small arrow on the health bar that you can see when you target that character. eg a grey downwards arrow is a condition, which could be one of several things. Sometimes extra clues give you more info, for example if the healthbar turns green you know that the condition is poison/disease.

    It’s all about providing information that is maximally useful while minimally obtrusive. I never have any bloody idea what is on either me or my opponents when playing WAR.

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