Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of “voices from the community” posts at Restokin. I am happy to report that my request for guest writers was very successful! So, this “voices” series is featuring guest writers from the druid community, who will be writing on a number of different topics over the next few months (about once a week). These writers have a wide variety of experience and opinions. I hope you enjoy their posts!
Hi everyone, my name is Garnaph, I play a Tauren Feral Druid (often raiding in my Resto or Boomkin offspecs) on Twilight’s Hammer EU, run my own guild <The Exodus>, and raid lead a 10 man raiding team, 9 of whom are based in South Africa. We’re currently 11/12 normal, busy bashing our faces against Nefarian.
I’m going to give an overview of what it’s like to raid in a high latency environment. Most players who are based in the US or the EU are used to sub 50ms pings, and refer to anything over 100ms as “unplayable”. I constantly raid on 300-400ms, and that’s a good connection. To us, bad is when it gets to 700ms or higher.
For those unclear on what this means, the ping-time is your return trip time for a message to be sent from your PC to the WoW server, and for your PC to receive a reply. What this effectively means is all of your actions have a “lag” on them, which dramatically alters how the game works. So any action can go off anything up to a second after you intended it to. Your actions happen that much later than you intend them to.
Take a look at how we’re connected to the rest of the world here and here. Within the US or EU, you’re connected to the WoW servers via a large number of land-based fibre-optic connections, which results in extremely fast return-trip times. See that tiny little line connecting to South Africa from Europe? Every single South African player there is, connects to EU servers via that single line, and it is one hell of a bottleneck. There are other lines going live (one is already live), but there are such terrible stability issues with them right now, I’m not going to give them any mention.
From what I understand, South American and Australian players experience similar problems.
Even when connections are stable, there are many raiding problems caused by the consistent high latency…
Loss of DPS/Healing:
You cast a spell as another spell finishes, but thanks to lag, even though you click when a spell appears to finish on your side, it only actually goes off a half second later. Due to DPS rotations being based on the ABC (Always Be Casting) rule, this equates to a DPS/HPS loss.
The solution for this is fairly elegant. Firstly, the WoW client recently had custom lag tolerance added. This means that you can perform an action up to 400ms before you would normally be allowed to do so, and the server will perform the action for you after the previous action is complete. However, since this only accounts for 400ms, it’s not a complete solution for those with over 400ms. Also, it’s impossible to figure out the exact timing from this as there is no UI element showing you when to hit the next ability.
So, in comes an addon that most playing on lag cannot live without : Quartz is a cast bar replacement, and like most mods you can change the size of the bars, move them around, etc. The part relevant to this topic is that it also displays your current ping as part of the bar. So say you’re casting a 2 second Healing Touch, and you have a 400ms ping, roughly a quarter of the bar will display, showing this lag. The moment the cast bar goes into this red area, you can hit the next action, and it will hit the server roughly when the previous action finishes:
Addons such as pitbull also contain this functionality, but I find Quartz the most useful out-the-box.
The result of this, once you get it right, is that you lose the gaps in your casting due to (from the server’s point of view), actions going off directly after each other.
The combination of the in-game lag tolerance and Quartz means you can imagine a further 400ms gap before the red Quartz bar, and you can hit a spell in that imaginary window instead. If you were to hit a spell 50ms into the 400ms window, you’ll be idle for 50ms. It’s not a train smash, but it is significant. However, as mentioned before, if you hit a spell in the lag tolerance window, it goes off immediately after a spell finishes, which results in zero downtime.
Imagine a boss has a spell that will wipe your raid, with a 1 second timer. Someone’s reactions means they hit interrupt 700ms into the cast, and their 400ms lag means it goes off 1.1s after the spell started casting. They hit the button at the right time, but the interrupt failed due to it hitting too late.
This one is a constant pain for high lag raiders. Usually the solution is to find the melee DPS with the lowest ping (normally someone with an expensive ADSL account with 250-300ms), and put them in charge of interrupting said ability. Alternatively, spells such as Curse of Tongues also work wonders to slow cast times so they are actually interruptable. If a boss is immune to curse of tongues, you’re in big trouble.
Our biggest problem in this regard was Maloriak, whose abberations cast time was increased in a patch, and only after that was it easily interruptable by any raid member.
“I was out of it I swear”:
Thanks to high latency, things will hit you in raids that you were not standing in on your screen. The only way around this is to be literally one step ahead.If you have 400ms, think of where you were 0.4s ago. That’s where you still are as far as the server is concerned. We recently had a lot of trouble with this on Al’Akir, where someone would run into the gap in a squall line, and then would get pulled into a tornado halfway through the line (not even the one next to the gap). The explanation of course is the server thought they were somewhere else.
The only real way to get around this sort of thing is to stand in the right position a good second or two before you would normally need to, and let the effect pass you by, rather than running through it.
I’m not going to talk about tunneling (e.g. smoothping) services, as blizzard is in the habit of banning players who use these services, due to their source IP changing without warning (which blizzard identifies as them being hacked). I have friends reporting pings as low as 150ms on smoothping, but I can’t honestly recommend it until blizzard stops the random banning.
Ultimately, the lag is there to stay, and play styles are built around it if you insist on playing wow. As a result we struggle with raid content, can’t compete with low ping players in arena, and some raid content seems entirely out of reach. Until Blizzard decides to start putting localized servers in place to lower the distances involved, we have to accept that this is how things are going to be.