Thursday 11 October 2007

I need something to support me

A little while back, there was an interesting post on Keen & Graev's splendid blog, "Why do players prefer a DPS role?". As I said in the comments at the time, it's not so much DPS that I like, it's "enemy focused combat" (as inspired by the episode of People Like Us that goes into the difference between "pupil centred teaching" and "teacher centred learning"). I hate hanging around, seeing what happens, reacting appropriately...

Perhaps it's something ingrained from years of single player gaming prior to getting into MMOs, where the idea of a "support role" doesn't really exist, it's just you, and a whole bunch o' the enemy (or some pegs, if you're playing Peggle). The only way to play is to focus on the enemy (usually in order to inflict large amounts of damage somehow). Starting with City of Heroes as my first MMO meant I didn't get exposed to the "holy trinity" of mandatory tank/healer/DPS. Almost any combination of classes worked together; instead of a healer, you could bring along a force-field defender to throw up a shield so you didn't get hit in the first place; instead of a tank taunting and soaking up damage, you could have a controller holding and immobilising mobs to stop them getting near you. It's like they didn't *quite* trust themselves to break away completely, though, so you still had tanks (you can tell, 'cos the archetype is called "Tanker"), and you still had healers. Sort of. You actually have "Empathy defenders", whose initial powers are heals, but they also get a bunch of nifty buffs later, and a whole secondary powerset of attacks.

Anyway, after trying a few different characters, I never really liked the ones who helped out fellow heroes, or stood around getting punched a lot. Raining flaming death upon all and sundry? Much more like it, so I continued down the "never mind the team-mates, here's a fireball" path, and again into World of Warcraft with a Rogue (though more swords than fireballs in that case). I'm not sure if I went with those classes as they suit the way I play, or after playing those classes my playstyle has adapted to suit them (nature vs nurture, hmm...) Whatever it is, I've tried to diversify into support characters now and again, most recently with an Ice/Kinetics Corruptor in City of Villains. Corruptors have access to a set of ranged attacks (Ice, in this case), and a support powerset; Kinetics is quite interesting, generally debuffing an opponent to buff your team, so there's a power that slows a mob while boosting your own speed etc.

The first challenge to the support-mindset is, every two levels, you get to pick a new power. So at level 16, I'm sitting there, looking at what I can select... I should really be picking pre-requisite powers that will lead up to Stamina, as the endurance boost it gives makes life so much easier, but they're so terribly dull. I could pick Increase Density, a way of freeing allies from holds, very useful in teams, excellent support power. Or I could take Ice Storm, SHOWERING FROZEN DOOM UPON MY FOES, MUAHAHAHA! Guess which I took?

So then we're off on a jail break, me, a Brute and a Stalker. The Brute and Stalker are DPS archetypes, their raison d'etre is DPS. The most efficient course of action is for me to support them doing this damage, buff their damage output, heal them, generally be supportive. And I try. Honestly, I do try, I check they're standing near, fire off the damage buff, check their health bars, they're looking OK... pom de pom... damage buff recharging... tum te tum... single target ice blast to finish off the Brute's target... health bars still OK... what harm could be done by a quick FROST BREATH! ICE STORM! FREEZING AoE DOOOOOM, MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!1!

The answer is, of course, "plenty". And not just to the mobs, who (quite unreasonably, in my view) take a dim view of their frosty assault, and start hitting poor, squishy me, causing desperate popping of inspirations and flailing for the heal (which needs to hit a mob to take effect, fortunately doing so in this case).

Next lot of mobs... well, it's pretty similar. I know AoE attacks aren't a particularly bright idea, but there's all those guards, standing so close together, just a tiny little attack, sure n' they won't even notice, ah go on, just a quick FROST BREATH! ICE STORM! FREEZING AoE DOOOOOM, MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!1!

They do notice. And kill me (again, really quite an overreaction, if you ask me). After finishing them off, a team-mate passes over an Awaken inspiration so I can resurrect and carry on. And I really have learned by lesson now, no more ill-judged AoEs, certainly not! This resolve lasts a good couple of minutes, then the temptation just gets too much, and it's FROST BREATH! ICE STORM! FREEZING AoE DOOOOOM, MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!1!

It's not so much I feel I have to be doing damage, if I was a Dominator I'd be happy lofting holds at anything that moved. It's not entirely a "DPS" thing, it's more I need to be doing something, and while the buff/debuffs are recharging, attacking is all that's left. Yes, I have the attention span of a gnat, and not even a particularly attentHAI WHAT'S THAT OVER THERE??, though once again, m'lud, I blame society. Or games with a focus on MOVE! JUMP! SHOOT! RUN! TWITCH! Inaction is DEATH! CLICK! CLICK FOR YOUR LIFE!, reinforced by playing MMOs that same way as DPS-types. It's not that I can't spend hours contemplating minor adjustments to the tax rates of all my cities in Medieval: Total War, or carefully equipping a squad in UFO: Alien Invasion (a nifty open source XCom-alike I was playing last night); I was just whining about needing a pause option in RTS games, after all. MMOs have just got wired into the "twitch" part of my brain.

There were a few other challenges in the mission, like annoying enemy group proxomitiy that meant chasing a final mob from one group tended to aggro another, and Longbow flamethrowers, flaming AoE attacks being particularly damaging when we're all clustered together for my buffs to take effect, but we did make it through in the end (albeit losing 2 of the 3 NPCs we were supposed to rescue on the way, but hey, who cares about NPCs?). There were a few deaths, but fortunately my itchy trigger-finger (or icy-palm, or whatever is used to launch cold attacks) mostly just to lead to my own doom, except in a couple of cases where the lack of support from my twitching corpse led to the whole team getting overwhelmed.

I don't know if there's a cure. I suppose I could take my AoE attacks off the power bar, so I can't use them. Some sort of self-help hypnosis tape, involving taking deep breaths, perhaps... "Apply buffs, now breathe in... hold... 3, 4, 5... and out. And relax, while not launching attacks." Maybe there's a patch, or a chewing gum? "Feel like launching an AoE attack? Just chew a stick of IcyFresh gum! That same cool hit, but with no aggro drawn!" Or I could wire up the attack keys to a battery... FROST BRzzzzzzzzapOW! Aversion therapy, that ought to do it. Or! I could just be so poor that my team-mates get exasperated, roll a support character themselves, and play it properly. Decisions, decisions...


Melmoth said...

Or! I could just be so poor that my team-mates get exasperated, roll a support character themselves, and play it properly. Decisions, decisions...

Well, I don't know about exasperation, but if you had a team-mate who, in general, liked playing support classes and had a penchant for alt-rolling...

I will confess that when I'm often at the back of the group, healing and buffing (as it were), I do sometimes get a bit of DPS envy. However, from our experiences in the jailbreak and elsewhere, I don't actually get the sense of satisfaction from punching villains on the nose that I imagine I will get when I'm looking-on at others doing so.

A curious observation indeed, I wonder if it's not so much the need to be doing DPS as the need to feel 'involved' (which probably relates to your "need to be doing something"), and that often as a support class one feels slightly left out on the fringes, like a schoolboy rugby winger, where the position can be ever so useful to the team, but most of the time seems to involve standing out in no man's land like a lemon, shivering in the cold and waiting for your brief and oft-forgotten chance to shine.

Ok, time for me to see the analyst again.

Zoso said...

Hmm, you could be on to something with the winger analogy... needing the discipline to stay in position, 'cos if you bugger off to actually get a sniff of the ball, you're not there for that final pass/crossfield kick (or, more likely, as the last line of defence after a turnover...)