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Getting Started As A Healer

Posted by Malevica on May - 9 - 2011

I was listening to the My Epic Heals podcast recently, and in Episode 3 Fox, Eade and Wolf were answering an email question asking about how to break into healing for the first time. Inspired, I thought I’d add my take on that question. I’ll probably repeat a few of the things they said, for the sake of completeness.

Before You Begin

Heard about all the sweet Call To Arms rewards and want to get in on the action? Have a strange green box fetish you just have to indulge? Conscientious objector who just can’t bear the thought of harming another soul? Whatever your reason, you’ve decided you want to find out for yourself what this “healing” thing is all about.

The first thing to say is: great! Welcome to the club!

The second thing to do is answer the question which inevitably comes next: Which class should I pick?

Oh boy. This one comes up a lot, and it’s probably the hardest one to answer properly. The thing is, each class has its own style, its own strengths and weaknesses, and which you should play is going to depend mostly on your own personal preference.

Druids tend to rely a lot on instant-casts and heal-over-time (HoT) spells. The plus side is that you can be very mobile and can put out a ton of healing on multiple people at once, but you might find it a bit stressful if you can’t handle bars being half-empty and only slowly filling up. You do get a cool shapeshift though, albeit on a long cooldown.

Paladins are great if you like to really focus on a task, since most of the heals they cast are still single-target focused and they have a lot of mechanics to watch out for and react to (Holy Power and the Daybreak proc, for example). One downside of levelling a Paladin healer is that Holy gear is very different from Retribution and Protection gear, meaning that if you want to heal your way up you’ll either have to level Holy or maintain an entirely separate gear set.

Shaman are very versatile healers, and can fill both tank- and raid-healing roles at end-game pretty smoothly, which is a strong factor in their favour. Restoration can also share gear with Elemental so you can have a DPS spec while questing. Finally, Shaman can also provide a huge range of buffs to their party using their totems, so you can be an asset to any team you join.

Priests are also extremely versatile healers, to the point where they have two entire talent trees dedicated to different styles of healing. Priests can also fill any role in a raid at end-game, and have a huge range of abilities at their fingertips. The flipside of this is that you may find that a Priest has too many options, particularly if you’re not a grizzled veteran player.

Ultimately the choice is yours. The only way to tell is to jump in and level one, preferably to level 30 or above, and see how you like it. Please don’t try and pick the “best” class, or the one that’s most in demand, or the one that’s top of the healing meters on WoL or try and force yourself to play a class if you’re just not feeling it; you’ll just burn out quicker and won’t enjoy your game. All the healing classes can play a valuable role in any team, so play the one you get along with the best.

Low Levels

When to Heal?

Once you’ve picked your healing class, I’d recommend you start healing as soon as possible so that you can find out if the class works for you, if you like healing after all, and so you can begin to get to grips with your healing interface. The Dungeon Finder unlocks at level 15, so you can get going pretty quickly once you’re out of your starter zones.

If you can find friends then obviously group with them because they’ll be more understanding if you need to take things slow while you learn, but at low levels people won’t expect too much so you can safely PuG if that works better for you.

I’d also recommend that you talent for healing right off the blocks. This isn’t strictly necessary at low levels but it will help you out, especially now in the Cataclysm world where you’ll get a special signature ability at level 10, just for picking a healing tree to specialise in. Those abilities are Earth Shield for a Shaman, Swiftmend for a Druid, Holy Shock for a Paladin and Penance and Holy Word: Chastise for Discipline and Holy Priests respectively. Holy Priests need to be level 51 to get healing benefits from HW:Chastise, but the other classes get a healing spell with their talent trees.

Questing as a healer at low levels, up to 30 or so, isn’t significantly slower than levelling as a DPS, although as the levels get higher the difference becomes more pronounced. However even late in the game, while questing as a healer is undoubtedly slower and more arduous than questing as a DPS, it’s really not the impossible task it used to be. But bear in mind that you’ll probably want to spend a bit more time instancing and stay in zones with yellow quests rather than orange.

How to Heal

If I tried to give specific healing strategy for every class here then I’d end up making this guide a lot longer than it needs to be, but there are some things in common.

In general, by the time you reach level 20 you’ll have access to at least two heals: one will be quick and expensive, while the other will be a bit slower but more mana-efficient. You’ll need to use your judgement as to which is most appropriate: is your target about to die? Use the fast one. Are you running out of mana a lot? Lean on the slower one a bit more. As you level up you’ll add more abilities to your toolkit, and you’ll need to figure out where they’re best used and how many you can afford to cast. You may well make mistakes and get things wrong, but developing that judgement is a key part of learning to be a good healer.

The other thing you’ll need to learn is triage. Sometimes, usually when something’s gone a bit awry with the fight, there’ll be simply too much damage for you to heal through. At this point, rather than panicking you’ll need to learn to prioritise where your limited healing goes, and sometimes that will mean letting someone else die. Triage is as much an art than a science, and is something that you’ll eventually learn to do instinctively.

The basic priority for healing is:

You —> Tank —> DPS

The reasoning is that if you die then the tank will probably die soon afterwards and the fight will probably end messily very shortly; If you’re ok, then you need to keep the tank alive rather than a DPS, because you can survive without one DPS player, but you won’t survive long with a dead tank.
Obviously there are exceptions, and you’ll figure them out in time, but to begin with focus on keeping yourself and the tank alive.

User Interface

I’d recommend that you install and get used to using a few addons as early as possible, to make life easier and because low levels is the best time to learn to work with your UI. You might already have a UI that you love, but there are some healer-specific pointers that will help:

  1. Look into custom party- or raid-frames such as VuhDo, Grid+Clique or Healbot. Healing involves a lot of muscle memory and click-casting or using mouseover macros on raid-frames is the way it’s generally done at end-game, so you might as well get used to it now. While you’re learning is also the best time to figure out what you need your raid frames to show you and where you want to look for it, so you can constantly tweak the configuration of your addons as you go.
    I’d suggest starting with VuhDo because it’s quite useful out of the box and easy to set up. There’s also an excellent setup guide on the author’s website and really phenomenal support provided by the author and others at in a dedicated forum at PlusHeal (hi zohar101!).
    Gina at Healbot.net (not related to the addon!) wrote up a great guide to raid-frames recently, so go there for more help deciding.
  2. Consider addons to alert you prominently to events and procs so you don’t miss a vital opportunity. Blizzard has included some funky graphics for some abilities but not all. If you want to get complicated then you can’t beat Power Auras Classic, but there are other solutions such as TellMeWhen for just about everything or OmniCC for ability cooldowns.
    Also remember that you can include sound notifications with most of these sorts of addons. This is an often overlooked aspect of UI design, but can be really helpful for giving you information without requiring you to move your eyes elsewhere on the screen.
  3. When building your UI, think about the layout carefully. You will need to be able to see around your character’s feet so you don’t stand in fire, but you also want to keep all the information you want to use as close together as possible, to minimise eye movement all over the screen.
    Finally, remember the golden rule: your UI should show you all the information you need, no more, and no less.

[I've got a full UI post in the works, so look for that soon!]

Psychology

As you get into healing, you’ll begin to come across some of the social or psychological aspects of healing that are common to all levels.

Most notably: people will die, and it might well be your fault. That’s ok! Maybe you picked the wrong target or the wrong spell, or you burned through your mana quicker than expected, or you completely forgot which combination of buttons and keys controls Chain Heal; those are things that everyone does while learning (and even when you should definitely know better!) so pick yourself up, apologise to your group and move on. That’s one of the best reasons for starting early, especially if this is your first healer.

You’ll also learn to spot when these problems aren’t your fault. If you have three people in your random dungeons who all seem to be tanking one creature each, you’re probably going to find yourself struggling to keep them all alive; that’s why we have tanks, after all, they take less damage. Firstly, you can use your new-found triage skills to let the idiot DK unfortunate damage-dealer die to save the tank. Then you can communicate with your group, explain your difficulty, and hopefully they’ll adapt and make your life easier.

Or they might vote kick you, in which case you were better off without them. Just hop back in the queue and you’ll almost certainly get a better group the next time around.

Switching At Eighty-Five

But what if you’ve got your Paladin, Priest, Druid or Shaman to 85 and really fancy taking up healing?

The first thing to do is to go back to the paragraphs above, if you skipped them, and check the sections on “How to Heal”, “User Interface” and “Psychology”. They’re probably still relevant to you too. You’ll still need a basic grasp of triage, a UI with the right information on it, and to have some idea about what healing might entail.
Assuming that’s all in place, there’s a few extra things to bear in mind when switching role at end-game.

The big difference is that the level 85 world is a lot less forgiving than the level 25 world. People have an expectation, reasonable or otherwise, that you know what you’re doing by the time you get to max level. Therefore a bit more preparation is required.

Spells and Abilities

At 85 you’ll suddenly be presented with a full toolkit of spells and abilities to use, and unlike at low levels where you’ll have a few levels between each new one to learn how it works, you’ll be expected to know what they’re all for right away.

There are a number of ways you can gain this knowledge. The first ones that gets mentioned are Elitist Jerks or PlusHeal. EJ tends to have a single discussion thread per spec, which can get quite long, but these threads usually begin with a huge mega-post with the current best practice in (usually titled “Compendium” or similar). PlusHeal tends to be more discussion-based, with threads discussing questions about stat priority, spell usage, and so on. You usually can’t go far wrong with a trip to your EJ thread for an overview of what spells are good for a given situation.
As a caveat though, EJ is explicitly raid-focused, so you may need to be a little careful about their recommendations if you’re doing 5-man normals, but the general thrust of the advice will be sound.

You could also have a look at the many excellent blogs out there, and see what they’re recommending. There are plenty of guides to 4.1.0 for every class.

There are other alternatives to just reading what to do. You could browse World of Logs for other guilds, on your server or beyond, and look for other people in similar content to you. You can then have a look at what they’re doing and compare their spell usage to your own. This again tends to be raid-focused, but if you look for people doing entry-level raiding it’ll be a useful pointer.

And let’s not forget that you can always ask other people for advice. Don’t ask Trade, you probably won’t get many useful responses, but if you have a friendly healer in your guild or someone with an alt of your class, try whispering them when they’re not busy or posting on your guild’s forums and asking for some tips. Often people will be quite willing to spend time talking about how they play with someone taking an interest.

Gearing

If you’re a Balance Druid, Elemental Shaman or Shadow Priest, you have an easier time of gearing up than a Feral Druid, an Enhancement Shaman or a Protection or Retribution Paladin because you’ll already have gear with Intellect on it, and you might have a fair amount of Spirit as well.

For your starter gear set, you’re looking to get anything you can with Spirit and Intellect on it. As you gear up then you might consider the secondary stats, but initially just make sure you have spirit on everything, reforging if you have to, so that you can last the fights before running out of mana. Sometimes people recommend picking up crafted blue-quality PvP gear to replace your worst pieces. This can be a good route to getting some higher itemlevel healing gear, but avoid filling too many slots this way because most of the PvP gear doesn’t have Spirit on it, and you can’t reforge the Resilience into Spirit, so you’ll end up a lot weaker than your itemlevel might suggest, and you might be allowed into heroics before you’re really equipped for them.

When you get into enchanting and gemming your gear is a bit of a personal preference, depending on your circumstances. If you have the cash to spare I’d encourage you always to go in fully enchanted and with blue-quality gems all over, to give yourself the best advantage you can. Likewise, consider popping a flask if you’re going to be running a lot of dungeons in a row; flasks are a massive stat boost, and persist through death.

Practising – Battlegrounds

Something I’ve used in the past, and something the Epic Heals guys mentioned too, is taking your new spec and UI into the battlegrounds. This is a great opportunity to check if your UI actually works for healing (you’d be amazed!) and to get used to the mechanics of healing in a less pressured environment. I’d suggest something bigger like Alterac Valley or Isle of Conquest rather than Warsong Gulch, just so you don’t have too much of an impact on your team if things don’t go smoothly.

The thing with the battlegrounds is that there’s almost always someone taking hurt that you can heal, and there’ll be dangers for you to survive while you’re doing it. At the same time, people expect to be dying a lot and so you probably won’t get yelled at when they do. And there’s often a lack of healers in battlegrounds, so anything you can do is better than nothing.

Your First Run

When you enter a dungeon for the first time hopefully you”re as prepared as possible and you’ll do fine. But it’s still important to communicate to your group. I strongly recommend mentioning to them upfront that you’re a fairly new healer, and politely ask them to take it slow or to be gentle with you. Most groups will accommodate you, since wiping is slower than just taking their time, but if they don’t, or they’re abusive, just wish them well and drop group. You’ll get another group soon enough, and you won’t learn much if the group isn’t going to work with you.



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Categories: Advice and Strategy

Smite Healing – Tips

Posted by Malevica on October - 14 - 2010

I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores in this post of using Smite and Atonement as part of your healing toolkit, but there are a couple of tricks that I wanted to share that might help the potential Smite user, based on some playing last night.

Macros

First up is a macro suggested by Andy in a comment on the 4.0.1 guide.

#showtooltip Smite
/cast [@targettarget, harm] Smite; Smite

It’s a more failsafe version of just having Smite on your bars. If you have a hostile target selected, it’ll just cast Smite. If you have a friendly targeted, e.g. a tank, this will cast Smite at their target instead.

If you want absolute control over your Smite target, you could use a focus macro. This one’s borrowed from our trusty CC macros:

#showtooltip
/clearfocus [modifier:alt]
/focus [@focus,noexists]; [@focus,dead]
/stopcasting
/cast [@focus,exists,harm] Smite;Smite

If you don’t have a focus already, this macro will set your target to your focus and then Smite it (assuming it’s an enemy). If you do have a focus, the macro will Smite it. And if you hold down Alt, the macro will change your focus to your current target, and then Smite it.

I’d assume you’d probably have the boss as your focus, and just hit this button whenever you want to cast Smite.

This next macro is good for when you want to Smite something, but don’t want to use your focus for it. This is probably a better choice for soloing because it’s not as controlled as the first.

#showtooltip
/targetenemy [noexists][dead][help]
/cast Smite

If you don’t have a target, this macro will act as if you’d hit Tab, and then cast Smite on that target. It’ll work up to 40 yards, exactly the same as Tab. While you have a target, this macro will continue to Smite it without any target switching.
If you have a dead target (or your target is friendly), the macro will then pick a new target and Smite that.

[This is a slight update on the one I posted on PlusHeal, with the conditionals linked more efficiently]

The three previous macros are really actionbar macros, just taking the targeting out of the equation to some extent. The following macro can help you integrate Smite with a click-healing setup:

/cast [@mouseovertarget] Smite

You can add this to your click-bindings, so you can click on a tank and the macro will cast Smite on their target (hopefully the boss). I chose not to go this route, because I ran out of mouse button bindings (I need a tidy-up!), so I’m using VuhDo directly, as I’ll explain below.

UI

Here’s how I have VuhDo set up (using the auto-generated test names, since I didn’t get any screenshots in last night’s ToC):

The raid is in the middle panel, pets in the right, and main tanks and my focus in the left panel. Next to the main tanks are small red squares, which are target-of-target frames showing what the tanks are targeting. Instead of using up a regular click binding for a dedicated macro, I used VuhDo’s facility to bind separate spells for hostile targets and I have Smite set up for a hostile target.
So I click on the target frame to Smite it, and move my mouse across a little to cast a direct healing spell on the tank himself when I need to.

I don’t know if you can do a similar trick with Grid or Healbot, but I would imagine it’s possible (Grid can do everything, after all!). Perhaps someone else knows of a suitable guide.

The other thing addons can help with is watching for a 5-stack of Evangelism so you know when to cast Archangel to get that mana back. I’m using PowerAuras for this:

The top icon will pop up when I have 5 stacks of Evangelism, I’m below 85% mana, and Archangel is castable, and the number over the icon is the time remaining, so I can refresh the stack up or consume it if it looks like falling off.

This PowerAura is a linked set of three, which I’ve included below in case you want to adapt something to your own needs:

Archangel Castable:

Version:3.0.0W; icon:ability_priest_archangel; buffname:Archangel; x:-244; bufftype:7; owntex:true; mine:true; combat:true; size:0.2; y:5; texmode:2; timer.h:1.56; timer.Texture:WhiteRabbit; timer.enabled:true; timer.cents:false; timer.y:5; timer.x:-247

Mana below 85%:

Version:3.0.0W; bufftype:9; threshold:85; off:true; combat:true; texmode:2

Evangelism at 5 stacks:

Version:3.0.0W; icon:Spell_Holy_DivineIllumination; buffname:Evangelism; x:-244; customname:Archangel; stacks:5; texture:54; mine:true; customtex:true; combat:true; size:0.2; y:62; timer.h:1.54; timer.Texture:WhiteRabbit; timer.enabled:true; timer.cents:false; timer.Relative:CENTER

I use the Evangelism one as the main Aura, and require the previous two to be matched as well for it to be displayed.

 

Glyphs

Finally, this is a bit of a repeat, but if you want to use Smite much, make sure you’re using the Glyph of Divine Accuracy to make sure they land!

Also, if Smite is something you use a lot, the Glyph of Smite will be a big boost. If you Smite infrequently, then a 20% boost for 12s is probably a waste of the time you spend putting HF up, but if you’re tank healing it will probably be a good way to go.

Thanks to Sytax in the comments for his input. Glyph of Smite isn’t actually a dramatically good choice, as I’d first thought, primarily because of the newly reduced 7s duration of Holy Fire (which I hadn’t noticed when I wrote the post), meaning you can only get 4-5 improved Smites in that time, depending on your haste (assuming the last cast gets buffed by when you start casting rather than when you complete the cast). However, it’s not by any means useless either.

Below 22% total haste, even if all you do is Smite, you will see little difference between the two, with a tiny, tiny increase from the glyph. Between 22% and 50% haste, which is where we’ll all probably live, you’ll see a small increase in throughput from the glyph, and another small increase above 50% haste.

Here’s a graph, showing the effect of increasing total Haste %:

This assumes you Holy Fire, cast Smite until HF is off cooldown again, and the cycle starts over. I normalised the numbers it so that a “normal” Smite is worth 1 Healing point, and so a Smite improved by the glyph is worth 1.2, and I simulated over 300s, which is probably overkill, but at least averages things out nicely.

Good luck with the Smiting!



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Categories: Advice and Strategy

[Cataclysm Beta] Cataclysm Party UI Revisited

Posted by Malevica on September - 12 - 2010

Since the last time I posted about this, Blizzard has listened to the feedback and revisited the party/raid frames a little bit with more options that we were asking for.

The new options pane

Backing up one step, in the current beta build (12942) the new-style frames appear to be off by default. You turn them on by ticking the “Use raid-style party frames” option in the Interface-Unitframes menu screen, as shown below:

Screenshot of the Options-Interface-Unitframes menu, with the "Use raid-style party frames" option ticked and indicated by a big green arrow

Customising the actual raidframes is in the Raid Frames menu, and now gives you the following options:

The Raid Frames configuration page, as of build 12942

I’ll step briefly through the new additions, working down the columns.

A toggle for power bars

I think all healers will probably want them on, and it’s a shame in a way that you can’t choose to show mana but not show rage/energy/runic power, but that’s a minor point.

Do you really need a screenshot for this?

Border

A slightly odd-looking grey border, which can be turned on or off. I imagine most people will want it off, but it’s on by default. It shows around the raidframe box, as well as putting lines around the individual frames and power bars, as you can see below:

Screenshot of the raid frames with borders enabled

Resizeable frames

This was high up most people’s wishlists, and I’m glad to see it make it in.

You can scale width and height independently, and the range of sizes goes from low to high, with very fine control in between (the slider has around 35 steps, so plenty of adjustability there). Here’s the two extremes for your viewing pleasure:

Low (default): Raid Frames, scaled as small as they will go

High: Raid Frames, scaled as large as they will go

Now there’s some interesting scaling things here. The name text, power bars and debuff indicator (upper-right) don’t change scale, although the health remaining text and debuff icons (lower-left) do. I’m going to assume this is a result of this being beta and not yet finished, but it does look a bit odd.

Numerical health display

You now have options for the numerical health display, although it’s turned off by defauly. It’s got options for absolute health remaining (long-form, i.e. 49516 rather than 49.5k), health lost (same format) or health percentage. A short-form option would be the icing on the cake, but definitely a leap forward.
Here’s the selection dropdown:
Health Display options for the new raid frames

And some examples:

  • Health Remaining: Screenshot of Raid Frames with health remaining displayed
  • Health Lost: Screenshot of the Raid Frames with Health Lost displayed
  • Health Percentage: Screenshot of Raid Frames with Health Percentage shown

Class-coloured health bars

By default this is set to off, but you can turn it on if you want to. Another one I’m very pleased to see make it in.



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Categories: Cataclysm Beta

[Cataclysm Beta] The new party UI

Posted by Malevica on August - 11 - 2010

Since this was first posted, the party UI and options have been developed further. Please check out my update post for the differences.


I’ve managed to heal a fairly dismal 2 instances, and we never finished the Stonecore. Still, I’ve had a good play with the new party healing UI, so it’s time to share some thoughts.

If you’re interested in other takes, Matticus (twice!) and Derevka have also posted about this, amongst others.

Although this is currently just being used for the party interface. I’m assuming this will be extended and used as a replacement for the default raid frames as well, so some of my thoughts and comments may also have raiding in mind.

What does it look like?

This:

Busy party UI screenshot

Or, when things are a bit calmer, this:

Quieter party UI screenshot

And in full context (1680 x 1050), it looks like this:

Party UI set within a whole screen

For the record, I wouldn't normally raid with the combatlog taking up half my screen, but it's really handy for seeing what the hell's going on in content I don't know well yet.

It looks something like a hybrid of VuhDo with Grid. It’s fairly compact and clean-looking without sacrificing too much functionality for compactness. It also fits well with the rest of the UI in general, which is a big plus.

Personally I don’t tend to get too wrapped up in aesthetics, and this is nothing really revolutionary, so I’ll skip on quickly.

Information display

How does the healing UI do straight out of the box? Actually, pretty well, with some caveats.

Class-coloured bars

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the UI in a freshly-formed group was that the bars are class-coloured Grid-style. I understand that UI design is a hugely subjective area, but I’ve never managed to see the appeal of class-coloured bars.
I don’t feel that class-coloured bars actually give me any information I need. Rarely do I think about what class someone is before healing them and the only situations I can think of where I’d need to know are when people are dead, and their bars are a uniform grey (I might choose to combat res a Druid, or not to combat res a Shaman, for example).

The argument for bars which change from green through orange/yellow to red as HP falls is that it draws your attention quickly to those in need of a heal and gives some indication of their state, in a more noticeable way than just shrinking the health bar. When you’re scanning 25 bars, a big bold colour change jumps out at you. So having class-coloured bars feels like a missed opportunity to give me information.

A more nitpicky point is that the standard DK colour could do with being made a bit bolder. It’s quite tricky to spot the health deficit on Sielydine’s bar, at least for me in my computer room in daylight.

Another screenshot, this time the dark red of the DK's health bar and the black background are tricky to distinguish

Role icons

In the upper left corner of each bar is an icon representing the role of each player as assigned by the Dungeon Finder. It’s a nice feature to have, for sure.

Ideally I’d probably prefer to be able to hide this information, since it tends to be something you look at once and never again and it’s currently taking up space, but given that the purpose of these frames is to Just Work™, hiding the icons behind a hotkey or right-click probably isn’t an option.

Target and Aggro indicators

The screenshot just above is a good example of this. The player you currently have targeted, in this case Muhmann, gets a cream-coloured border around them. Players with aggro get the expected red border, with arrow embellishments for good measure. These are standard features for raid frames these days. The target indicator seems to have higher priority than the aggro indicator, but the red arrow marks still show through since the target indicator doesn’t include them.

I’m a little confused about the other frame colours though. Let’s have another look at the first screenshot I posted (reproduced below, to save your scrollwheels):

Busy party UI screenshot

Mogy is the tank this time; he’s got the cream border because I’m targeting him, and he has aggro because you can see the red triangles. All fine and dandy.

It’s not made clear what the yellow and ochre borders around the others represent. My guess is that they’re part of the aggro indicator, corresponding to people with moderate and high threat. I’m basing this mostly on the fact that they’re a similar shape to the red aggro indicator.

Incoming Heals

Another screenshot, this time the dark red of the DK's health bar and the black background are tricky to distinguish

Another nifty feature you can see exemplified in the screenshot above is the display of incoming heals on the bar. There’s not a huge amount to say about this really, incoming heals show up as a big bright green chunk on the end of the bar, overheals spill out beyond the bar (which is good, it lets you see just how much of an overheal you’re casting) and the size of the bar appears to be more-or-less accurate, although I’ve not been able to fully test it with Mortal Strikes etc yet.

For this to be really useful in a raid situation it needs to be able to show other people’s heals as well as your own, so if Blizzard do make this the template for new raid frames I hope they’ve built that functionality in, but for a party just showing yours is plenty.

HoTs and Debuffs

For discussion purposes, here’s that screenshot, repeated once again:

Busy party UI screenshot

Working from the top, the blue circle in the top-right corner of my frame shows at a glance that I have a magical debuff. If you want to find out at a glance what debuff it is, that’s in the lower-left corner where all the debuffs are displayed together as standard icons, growing left to right. Both the small indicator and large icon will display tooltips on mouseover.

Moving down, Mogy has both PW:S and Weakened Soul, while below him Pjata only has PW:S. HoTs appear all together in the lower-right corner, growing from right to left.

Datanka is very kindly illustrating what a debuff with multiple stacks looks like. The number is nice and clear and readable, although it does obscure most of the icon. With space being at a premium though, some sacrifices are inevitable, and in this case I’d rather see stacks (which are hard to work out) than the icon (which you can figure out from context).

What you don’t get is any way to see the duration remaining as a number, only as the grey overlay. There’s just no way to fit that onto the icons sensibly, but I do prefer to see a number, since I often find the grey overlay thing a bit too tricky to discern.

I didn’t manage to catch a screenshot of this, but diseases work in the same way as magic debuffs do, with a small orange icon in the top-right and a “proper” icon in the lower-left. The last image on Matt’s first post shows this though.

I’m sort of torn on the dual debuff indicators. I imagine the top-right corner indicators are intended to highlight that someone has a debuff, to draw attention more quickly and help you select your cleanse spell of choice while you look at the icon and decide how you want to respond.
I’m all in favour of simple tricks to grab attention (see the discussion above about bar colours) but I’m not sure a relatively tiny icon is the best way to do it. I’d be happier seeing larger debuff icons (with thicker coloured borders) instead and the indicator space used for something else. I can’t help feeling like it’s awkward having related information in opposite corners.

Overall though the debuffs icons are pretty clear, stacks are obvious, the debuff type is readily apparent and they’re arranged logically in corners, so for a default, no-configuration UI this is actually really good.

The main missing feature that will be familiar to many of us is the ability to set up custom debuffs for special attention (Harvest Soul, Frost Blast, Penetrating Cold, amongst others). I’d love to see it, but I think that level of customisation is probably beyond the scope of what Blizzard is trying to achieve here, and possibly beyond what they’d be comfortable with including in the default UI.
Especially since different players care about different debuffs (for example, I don’t highlight Chilled to the Bone, while a melee DPS might want that displayed prominently).

Configuration

The thing to remember about this UI is that it needs to Just Work™ without needing to be configured or customised, and it needs to work for all classes, not just healers.

As a result, there’s not much customisation. Your layout choices are limited to showing pets, main tanks and main assists and keeping groups together (as opposed to sorting by name or role). You can also opt to turn off incoming heals, aggro highlights and to filter only buffs you can dispel.

Wishlist

If you’re used to healing with VuhDo, Grid, Healbot, Pitbull, Xperl or another set of full-featured, customisable raidframes you’ll probably find this quite limiting. This is not going to replace those addons, but it’s a pretty good compromise solution which shouldn’t impair your performance too much if you have to resort to using it (except the whole no click-healing thing…).

As Matt commented, “It’s important to discern between must have and nice to have but can probably heal without it type changes.” The danger is that if you add too much configurability, or too much information, you destroy the simplicity which is the whole point.

With that in mind, here’s my wishlist for must have items. These are things which I found actively obstructing my ability to heal effectively.

  • Let us choose between class-coloured and HP-coloured health bars. I thought about including this on the nice-to-have section, but actually this was causing me to neglect people or incorrectly estimate people’s status
  • Instead or as well as the previous point, brighten up the bar colours a bit, since some of the darker shades (DK in particular)can be tricky to tell from the background
  • Provide numerical timers, at least for HoTs. Make the icons bigger if need be

And the nice-to-have items:

  • Resizable bars. These are a decent compromise, but I did find them a little small at times. I tend to err on the side of larger boxes because poor eyesight combined with a high resolution screen is a bad combination
  • I personally tend to find it creates information overload, but numerical health deficits for players are fairly common to see in healing interfaces, especially when overhealing matters
  • Click-healing. The ability to bind spells to mouse buttons and modifiers. Not as the only way but many people find it a very intuitive way of healing. Unconfigured, a left-click could just be bound to targeting as normal, which wouldn’t interfere with people who didn’t want to click-heal. If you wanted to use a menu on someone, you could bind “menu” to something, or target them the old-fashioned way

On the whole the new party frames are a big step forward, and actually more-or-less a complete solution. They’re not perfect for me, but ‘perfect’ is a very subjective concept and the default UI is, after all, an exercise in compromise.



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Categories: Cataclysm Beta, Opinion

Healing and Addons

Posted by Malevica on July - 28 - 2010

There’s recently been a bit of a debate over the use or not of addons for healing. I don’t want to throw more fuel on the fire, but some of the posts and commentary have been quite throught-provoking, and since I’m about to head into the Beta and my usual UI will go out the window, I thought I’ve been giving my own addon usage even more thought.

My story

I use addons to heal and pretty much always have. I remember my first healing experience in Wailing Caverns in my 20s, way back in mid-2007, clicking on party frames to target people and then clicking on the healing spells on my bars. This being early in TBC and not my first character I was well aware that there existed a wide variety of addons to help classes do their job, so it was a natural next step for me to go a-Googling and I quickly found Healbot. Thus was a click-healer made.

Although I’ve never seriously used the default raid interface to heal, I have had occasion to quickly drag out the default raidframes and heal with keybinds (not mouseover macros, just target & press number keys) in a pinch when I’ve been disconnected mid-fight. I’m far from brilliant with it, but I can be non-useless in such a situation.

Pros and Cons

For me, healing effectively means mastering two stages: decision-making, i.e. picking the right person to heal and the right spell to use, or deciding whether to dispel that thing or to leave it; and then acting on that decision, i.e. reacting in time and hitting the right person.

Addons can help in both areas, but I mostly value assistance with the first part. Addons, if you spend the time to set them up properly, can provide you with as much information as you need to make your decisions, with (hopefully) no excess clutter, although of course in reality no addon can provide perfect configurability.

The problem that was brought up recently was that near-ubiquitous use of addons for showing spell cooldowns and boss abilities or for changing health bar colours when a decurse is needed means that people are losing, or failing to acquire, a sense of timing or even a depth of knowledge of boss mechanics. This can lead to a dependence on the addons, to the point where people become (or at least feel) unable to heal without them.

The trouble is that this is predicated on the idea that the addon(s) may stop working one day and expose that dependency. As long as the addon is active and functioning, there’s no problem. As a commenter observed, you’re judged on results, not methods.

Of course if your addons do break on patch day someone who has a more “visceral” understanding will probably outperform you, as will someone who is more accustomed to using the Blizzard interface to heal. When you don’t have an addon using a special this-one-really-matters colour, someone who can recognise an Unbound Plague icon from a Plague Sickness one will be at an advantage.
That is, until the player adapts to a new addon or the old addon is updated.

Here’s a different perspective: the default UI can be thought of as simply a set of ‘addons’ designed by Blizzard and included with the game, rather than something special or sacred. The only difference is that Blizzard make sure that their ‘addons’ are working before each patch release. From that perspective, it becomes much more like a choice between Vuhdo, Blizzard, Grid and Healbot.
You simply pick your comfort point in the trade-off between reliability in extreme conditions and everyday convenience, configurability and performance.

As a fun thought experiment, consider Blizzard announcing that due to the large number of excellent addons in the community, they are removing the default UI completely, leaving it purely in API form.

Short Version?

The most important thing addons provide is the ability to provide only the information you want to make your decisions, no more and no less. This (in theory) should lead to the most optimal decisions being made in any given situation. If providing more information than the default UI is helpful, then suitably-configured addons should improve your healing.

If those addons break, you may find yourself worse off than someone using the default UI (which is unlikely to break, at least on Live) until you can readapt, adopt a new set of addons, or the old addon is fixed. For the vast majority of us this isn’t a problem, although I can see how world-first guilds might find it helpful to be able to raid and heal regardless of the situation on the day new content is released.

I’ll be shortly spending some time on the Beta realm, where my normal UI is unlikely to work, so this will be an interesting test of my “dependency” on addons.



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Categories: Anecdotes, Opinion