Healing and situational awareness to your surroundings

So, this is probably a problem that a lot of people struggle with, so instead of just replying to an e-mail I got, I wanted to write about it here, so that everyone who struggles with this probelm can benefit from my answer. In addition, if you have solutions to it, you are welcome to post it here so that we can benefit from what you have learned.

Okay, so here is part of the e-mail I received:

But there’s one thing that I’ve had trouble with.  When I’m DPSing, I can focus on the boss and appreciate the effects and graphics and pay more attention to everything going on in the instance, whereas when I’m healing, I’m generally focusing on health bars so I can’t really see the instance as every one else can, especially the tank as the tank has to be looking at everything and be aware of what is going on at all times so he/she can make sure that no adds are lose or picking on the healers.  Of course there are downtimes that allow time to look around and see what’s going on, but more often than not, it’s a whack a mole feeling as you’re looking at health bars and nothing else.  Am I missing something or is that just the general nature of all healing?

My answer is both “yes and no”. The draw of health bar fixation is normal, but we need to be able to both keep people alive and at the same time, not stand in the fire and die ourselves.

In some aspects, in raids, it’s really easy for healers to get stuck looking at health bars and nothing else. I know that back in like the Molten Core days, there were times when healers (myself included) would face a wall and zoom in until all we saw was the wall, and then just focused on healing the tons of health bars that normally filled our screen, anyway. That sort of tunnel-vision is normal, as attention resources are limited – and it’s easier to just focus on your main job of healing and harder to do both all the healing and all the moving around and watching all the cool graphic effects that are going on. I think there were times where someone would ask me what boss we were on, and I’d reply things like “I don’t know the boss’s name, its the one where I stare at these health bars, just like every other fight.”

The “wack a mole” feeling comes from, well, having a ton of burst damage happening to everyone all the time. I’m sure most people who heal have that sort of feeling from time to time. However, the “stare only at health bars” strategy isn’t viable anymore in a lot of instances, because we are now required to move almost every single fight in Ulduar, and a lot of the fights in Naxxramas (and Sarth) also require healers to have some form of Situational awareness. It’s not as common in 5-man instances, but there are some fights where you have to pay attention to your surroundings even in the smaller dungeons.

Some of the problem could be from how your UI is set up. For example, over at the One Track Blog, there is a series of posts on Attention in WoW raiding. Part 1 of the attention series includes general advice (ie. know the encounters & practice, remember to look around the screen, etc). Part two of the attention series includes UI advice, on how too much clutter on your screen is too distracting.

So, my general advice, in addition to reading the two articles I linked, is:

A) Make sure that you can see your surroundings, and that your entire screen isn’t filled up with junk. This is one reason that a lot of people really like Grid for their Unit frames, so that they don’t take up very much space.

B) You practice looking at the areas of the screen where the fight is going on, instead of only looking at health bars the entire fight. Just periodically glance around your screen to see what is going on, until the act of looking around while healing becomes automatic. I also have a lot of practice at multi-tasking. Also, I think Deadly Boss Mods even has mods for 5-man dungeons to help keep track of telling you when you need to pay attention.

C) If you are healing one tank, you don’t need to stare at that one person’s health bar the entire time. Just spam to your little heart’s content while keeping at least some of your focus on the elements in the environment you need to also pay attention to.

D) Admit that we’re human and never perfect. A lot of deaths & wipes come from people just not watching something. With so many different things going on, it’s hard to watch everything and be perfect, so realize that in a raiding environment, you aren’t the only healer, and taking a second or two to periodically orient yourself to the fight is less likely going to cause a wipe than intently staring at health bars. In 5-man dungeons, there shouldn’t be that many times when you have to be super focused, as they leave a much greater room for error in most situations while you are gearing up.

Okay, lets take for example this 10-man Ulduar screenshot that I accidentally took during one of our attenmpts on the Assembly of Iron. We cleared pretty far that night, but this is the best “action shot” I have in my recent folders, since I tend not to take screenshots while fighting bosses.

ui-example

I have a 17″ wide-screen laptop, and I have my camera zoomed out farther than it normally can be zomed out, so that I can see most of the room. I have Deadly Boss Mods warning me in the middle of my screen that Lightning Tendrils is active, which signals to me that I need to move out of it’s way. I can see where the whole spell effect is, and who is standing in it. I also moved out of it’s way, but stayed close enough so I could heal the people standing in it.

I personally like keeping the health bars on that side of the screen, because that’s what I’m used to having. However, it would probably be better to have something close to where you need to be looking out for hazzards (but not covering too much of the screen). I do have a little too much clutter here, but it’s an amount of clutter that I’m used to. The amount of empty space on my screen doesn’t seem big, but it’s enough that I can both pay attention to my surroundings, and (under normal circumstances) I can do the job of healing I need to do.

So, how does everyone else handle both watching what the boss is doing, and watching the health bars of the people around you?

10 Comments

  1. Posted June 9, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I find that with a mostly see-through Healbot, it’s not too bad. I try not to zoom in so far that I get nothing but a giant closeup of the nearest raid member/mob. The see-through nature of the add-on allows me to keep my gaze on the health bar and my surroundings, an eyeball-balancing-act which gets easier the more times we do a particular boss fight (of course!) I wonder if it may be easier for trees, too, to adapt to boss strategies that involve a lot of running around since they deal a lot in instant-casts, versus other healers who have to stay in one place because of their casting time…It would be interesting to see some other healing class’ take on the matter.

    Thanks for posting your screenshot – I’ve been thinking a lot about changing up my add-ons and UI soon, and it’s always good to see how others are doing it.

  2. Posted June 9, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    My methods to make it easier to be aware:

    – Grid to reduce bar size and clutter, and put them on the bottom of my screen under my character, with enough room for my own cast bar/latency timer (and eclipse proc timer)

    – Keybound abilities remove the need to click around the screen

    – Removed the majority of my action bars (since they’re keybound), and shaped/scaled the few I did need so they’d be closer to the center screen, or else hid them in menus that open/close on a click (bags/professions using LunarSphere)

    – Cut the spam from scrolling combat texts by filtering the size of ticks and choosing not to show things like energy gains

    – Turn on enemy nameplates (v key) so I can easily see by the red bars what baddies are close to me, though I turn this off when there are tons of them and they prove distracting (little bugs, etc).

    – Zoom out so that I can easily see the ground my character is standing on

    – use a HuD addon to quickly glance at my own health/energy and target (as compared to some players who stick the entire target frame in their center screen)

    – Debuff Filter to pick out the important buffs/debuffs on both myself and my target, and place near center-screen

    – Rely on DBM and raid warnings to alert me to fire walls, etc

    – Power Auras mod to provide a more subtle warning of procs or problems

    – Place myself where I can most easily see a wall coming at me, or position myself where I can most quickly just press the w key to move out of a shadow crash without running into the melee or out of range of the tank, etc

    – If it’s Yogg, those clouds in P1 are more important than nearly anything else, cuz I don’t like trying to clean up around the extra shadow volleys an add would create if I clipped a cloud :)

    – MOVE AROUND. I do this by running in circles, jumping, etc, and it forces me to keep my surroundings in mind. I’ll stop moving when casting or the environment (lava, adds that might get pulled, etc) forces me to, but very often, I’m bouncing all over the room. Sometimes this translates to me jumping up in melee and punching the mob around spellcasts (and having to move to stay in melee range, avoid cleaves/whirlwinds, and not parry-gib the tank by punching from the front!). Side benefit of this increased awareness is noting the positions of other players, which helps in casting Wild Growth.

  3. Maor
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I have a UI similar to yours, except my raid frames are in the lower right portion of my screen. To the left of that I have Decursive, with HoTCandy either to the left of that or the right of my raid frames if I’m in a 10 man. This leave the middle portion of my screen completely clear allowing a good view of what’s going on around me. The raid frames are close enough to the centre and my hot bars that it doesn’t take much to glance between them all when needed.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of getting rid of HoTCandy since I don’t use it much when raid healing, but it handy for tank healing to allow me to know when to reHoT the tank.

  4. Posted June 9, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    When we’re in the 25-man, I have more bars to track, so the 10-man version only has my first two bars showing.

    I had a 25-man version of what my UI looks like here:
    http://restokin.com/?p=1277
    I’ve made some subtle improvements since then, but it’s close enough…

  5. Aelinna
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Do S3D, everything else is easy after that :)

  6. Kuhbus
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    i (resto druid) reduced my ui in 25s to healbot, scrolling combat text and bigwigs. removed all other group/player units except target and focus (boss).
    this keeps the ui slim.
    i do prefer healbot (not grid) because for me it’s important that the HoT-symbols are bigger and more “visual”.

  7. Mortitastic
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I have a lot of addons personally, but a few that are essential to healing and cleaning up the screen IMO. Bartender4 to minmize the number of bars displayed and give the ability to give the druid forms (including moonkin and tree form) stance swap bars. That allows me to put only spells that i can use on those bars freeing up extraneous spells hanging out on extra bars. VuhDo is kind of like healbot but better. I like the overall functionality of healbot but VuhDo is very compact and extremely configurable. I place that in the bottom center of the screen in a grid/clique kind of emulation with my action bars on either side of it. it frees up the whole of the screen to allow me to see. I may take one of the above suggestions and turn off energy gains on SCT cus it does get spammy with replenishment/revitalize

  8. Posted June 10, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    i tend to agree with you, liss. if you’re standing there missing the environment because of the “whack-a-mole” feeling… you need to change something. with ulduar raiding (and even naxx), standing in one place and staring at life bars for 6 min. in order to heal wont cut it (except like… 3 bosses total between the two instances)

    as raid leader for my guild, one of my pet peeves is when people die because they aren’t watching what’s going on around them… they are so locked into tanking/dps’ing/healing that they miss the very large green glyph on the ground from the assembly of iron encounter, or the eyebeams on top of them from kologarn… not to mention the raid warnings they’re getting due to DBM… and then me yelling at them on vent.

    i dont have a current picture of my UI, however it looks almost exactly like liss’s pic on here (if i didn’t know better, i’d say she stole it… however, i changed mine a month or so ago) except my raid bars are on the left hand edge instead of the right hand edge, like where the party frames would be, and i dont use xperl.

    my advice that i give my guildies is about the same that liss suggested:

    1.) move your UI around if you can’t see anything in time. if you have a small screen, put things on the edges so you can see your toon.

    2.) if you have a large screen (i have a 22″ wide screen), putting things on the edges may cause you to have to physically turn your head a bit to see something on the opposite side of the screen. you can avoid that by moving whatever you’re looking for closer to the center (about halfway from the center to the edge)… or my personal remedy for that: i play in windowed mode that is only maxed from top to bottom, not side to side, so my UI isn’t as spread out.

    3.) another option, if your UI is too cluttered, is to scale it down. blizzard standard options allow the scaling of the default UI, as does every UI mod i’ve seen so far. if you have to take the seconds to read which button you’re pressing, chances are the target you were about to heal is already dead anyways.

    4.) learn keybinds. not to knock on a way to play, but i dont think being a clicker (as a healer anyways) is the best route. not in the millisecond reaction time required for some fights. i know that during hrodir, when the tank is smacked for 30k frost damage, if i dont top him off in the next second and a half, he’ll die. trying to click the correct combo to make that happen in that time period usually results in a misclick or something, i’ve found. worst to worst, if you can’t play as a keybinder… just keybind your important ones… like, 1-4 (or if you’re an old school game player, you may default to 9 – “=”), and click the rest :D

    5.) remember that in order to keep your tank (or party members) alive, that includes keeping yourself alive… not by healing yourself, but by watching your environment. i know that that’s the issue we’re trying to resolve here, but sometimes giving the simple advice of, “remember to pay attention,” people tend to actually do better than with the advice of, “remember to move,” because then you get random issues of, “move from what, or when?” when the prior advice answers those questions: if you’re paying attention, you’ll see exactly when to move and from what.

    hope this helps.

    Poras
    Officer/Resto Druid
    -Pango Honoratus-

  9. Posted June 10, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    oooh, after my previous post, i thought of something else:

    6.) if you are any sort of leadership in your guild (or are able to make suggestions that will be taken seriously in your guild) try taking a break after a series of wipes to clear everybody’s head. after about 90 to 120 min. of raiding, my guild gives a 5 min. break to go get a drink, food, or have a smoke. if we wipe more than 4 times on a boss due to “stupid things” such as somebody just not watching, we give the break there to clear everybody’s head, and then 9 times out of 10, when we regroup, we kill him on the next attempt. sometimes it really is just a simple matter of needing to relax for a few minutes to re-focus yourself.

    — Poras

  10. Posted June 22, 2009 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    I have to say, when I tried healing on my druid, I was kind of overwhelmed that I had to pay much more attention to healthbars than I was used to (e.g. tanking: if a healthbar turned red it meant something else drew aggro, but that was basicly it). I am reluctant to try healing because of it, really.

    Now as a rogue it’s even worse, I don’t really get any benefit from seeing them in raids. In five mans I can use aggro notification again and perhaps save a healer with a blind or something, but other than that it has a pretty limited use overall for me.