Monday, February 24, 2014
High latency DPS observations
The internet is down completely here in Afghanistan today, so I took this opportunity to write a few letters home and construct a new blog entry.
Since moving to location B on this deployment, my internet connection has been stable, running about 400ms latency with a cap of 128Kbps download rate. This has been nice for applications like FaceTime, which seem to be optimized on the military and paid networks. The internet costs $130/month for that “faster” speed, but over here I think that’s about as good as I could ever expect. I've been able to communicate with my wife daily, and in some of my spare time I've been able to even do some light raiding in WoW.
My most recent enjoyment in online gaming has come from a surprisingly fun class to play in WoW, the hunter. Mine has been 90 for a while, although I merely used that toon for professions. However, I was relatively diligent in downing Ordos and Celestials each week for a total of 4 chances at high item level gear, and that paid off (this only takes about 10 minutes if you use oQueue, or accomplish it on a Tuesday after server reset). I ended up with four pieces of “warforged” 559 gear, which tops out at 567 once upgraded using valor points. For Smoogehunt, I started sensing that his DPS might actually be competitive in raids at a higher item level, even with the taxing latency that slows ability use.
And so, this is what I’ve learned about playing DPS classes with high latency…
BLUF (bottom line up front): Let your UI do some of the thinking for you, because you have less time to think.
In WoW, bandwidth is generally not your biggest limfac (limiting factor). Your super awesome hacker university-level mega internet pipeline doesn’t necessarily perform any better than my in-home $50/mo cable internet. In reality, latency plays a much larger role in your ability to complete raids or farm mobs. (Don’t even try to compete in PvP with high latency, at least in arenas.) As far as I know, there is no way to queue abilities for use, so every time you want to cast Explosive Shot, you have to press a button. For every DPS class I've seen so far (DK, rogue, hunter, and warlock), this means your triggered abilities will always be delayed by your latency + reaction time + physical cast time. So…with 400ms latency, it takes .4 seconds at least for my system to receive the notification that Lock and Load has procced, then I have to mentally react and decide to cast Explosive Shot, and then I have to physically push my “1” key. Now, my reaction time is decent, but this delay is simply unavoidable over here. How, then does a DPS player compete when he is at a near half-second or greater disadvantage?
Select the right spell at the right time. i.e. Don’t bother with Serpent Shot when a lot of low-HP mobs are in front of you…use your Glaives.
The only thing I've found so far to help with that is User Interface improvement. Simple addons such as TellMeWhen and SpellFlash will quickly cue your attention to upcoming and high priority abilities. For instance, I found a pre-made string that I imported into TellMeWhen for my Frost DK. It provides some centrally positioned icons that show when I can use an ability. It does the checking to make sure I have adequate runes or energy, and it highlights procs when they happen. For my DK this helps me anticipate which abilities I need to use. Even with latency, if you are selecting appropriate abilities based on energy and procs, you will suffer less DPS loss because you are never capping in any of your resources.
Capping your resource is an automatic loss of DPS. For a DK, you have two resources (runes and energy). Rogues simply have an ever-regenerating energy bar, just like a hunter, and casters have mana. My warlock also has an energy resource that can be spent to transform, which is less time critical, and my priest stores up charges that I can consume to increase my healing throughput. If you ever have 100% energy or all of your runes (rogue/hunter/DK), and an enemy is standing, you are losing DPS. If you capped your focus as a hunter because the game was ticking away while your connection slowly registered your actions, you lost DPS due to latency. However, if you have 500ms latency, you can still keep your focus below 100% almost all the time. The only exception I occasionally see is when a Lock and Load procs when I already had about 50% focus. I might hit 100% focus while I’m dumping Explosive Shot, but the next ExS that requires focus always brings me down quickly.
The universal cooldown seems longer when you have higher latency. OK, maybe not mathematically correct, but I can tell you that you have to wait for the UCD (the natural recharge rate before you can cast any other ability) before you can select your next attack. With high latency this often means that you accept an additional delay between instant casts. I notice a much faster attack pace on a faster connection with my rogue and hunter, because each of those occasionally spams instant attacks to dump energy/focus. The good news here is that most of the time you will be selecting abilities based on procs and cooldowns, not just spamming one key waiting for the UCD. When I do need to dump energy/focus, it simply takes me longer than a player with 30ms. Best advice here: don’t fixate on spam abilities…the chances are that you have a proc or a cooldown you can use to fill that time instead. Try not to ever cap an infinite resource when in combat.
Targeting makes a huge difference. In some fights, such as Garrosh, I have noticed my DPS goes far below normal. That’s because I don’t have a great way to target new enemies when they pop up. I still use my mouse wheel “up” as my “target next enemy,” which I’m finding to be entirely inadequate. I’m rarely selecting my intended target on the first single scroll, so entire seconds are lost just trying to find something new to shoot. This is not good, and it’s even worse if you are on a melee character such as a DK or rogue! With a hunter you should have almost zero downtime because you attack at range and you can cast all of your shots while moving. No excuses for a hunter, so I’m going to try to find a good addon for target selection, perhaps in the form of nameplates.
Be ready to use your big abilities. Know which key to hit when your 2-minute DPS cooldown is up, and quickly fit it into your rotation. I now use “Q” “E” “R” and “V” more than I ever used to, because they are relatively quick to strike. The primary numbers I use are 1, 2, and 3, and I do use shift some. I currently have some cooldown abilities tied to the F-1 through F-5 keys at the top of my keyboard, but I find myself reaching for those and using my cooldowns a lot less frequently than I otherwise would. I am not sure where to fit those abilities, since I also don’t naturally use the Ctrl button. I’m constantly looking for good keybinds to improve my speed when it comes to ability selection. The first step is definitely getting to know which spells are your character’s most important.
I recommend Icy-Veins as a great first stop. I probably spend about 15% or more of my time “gaming” actually reading forums, tutorials, and other people’s advice. I have been told that Noxxic is grossly inaccurate, so I went back to Icy Veins for my theorycrafting and to simply learn basic rotations on new specs. This is where I figure out what my important spells are, and I assign the most common ones to the easiest keys to reach. For instance, Explosive Shot is “1.”