Raiding on high latency (by Garnaph)

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.

Missed interrupts:

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.

27 Comments

  1. Nemoo
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Great article, I’m based outside of a major urban center in Canada and play on a wireless connection where pings frequently fluctuate between 100ms(amazing) and 2.5k(unplayable) with the average being closer to about 300-400ms. Can’t wait to get home and try out the 400ms lag correction features.

    Side note has anyone had any experience one way or the other with the Leatrix Latency Fix?

    • Deandre - Dalaran
      Posted April 18, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      I want to sing praise for Leatrix, but I honestly have no idea what impact it had and still has. I started using it originally because my latency went up, but it was due to a bad cable line. It didn’t seem to do anything to help, and once it was fixed I haven’t bothered to get rid of it.

      I will say this, I used to have similar issues with my wireless connection and it was due to using a USB plug in network device. I could *never* get a stable connection, even sitting directly next to the router. When I used a network cable the issues immediately went away, and using my laptops built in wireless it works great.

      • Levi
        Posted April 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        I tried this as soon as I came across this comment. It’s awesome. I’m under 200ms 24/7 have had no issues with it or side affects.

    • Renslip of Icecrown
      Posted April 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      I “grew up” healing as a tree, but once i hit raid content my ping (rural Canada) made that untenable. I now raid as a boomkin, since a bit of loss in DPS usually isn’t as critical as lag in the heals.

      Good article though. I already use Quartz for the reasons stated. Just nice to hear from someone else who has to play through these issues. Every now and then I have a good connection (100ms would be as good as possible) and I see just how much difference it makes. Suddenly I’m right up at or near the top of DPS, instead of struggling not to be the lowman.

  2. Tala
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this guest post! I live in the US, but I’m currently in a rural area far from any sort of fiber optic. My connection is actually much like you described above.

    One thing that also seems to help is not using some addons. I’ve been disabling recount and a few others to raid for a long time and it definitely helps. Some of the officers in my guild have had good suggestions as well including using the Nagle/ Leatrix fix and turning off other “chatty” addons.

    • Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      There have been addons we’ve had to ban in raids in the past, but the last time I heard any mention of one was Carbonite, and that was probably a good year ago. Perhaps our Internet infrastructure has got a little better, or perhaps the addons have got less spammy. Whatever the case, there are no addons that I’m aware of at the moment (and I might be wrong), that cause issues like this. I run with a ton of them on and my latency is no different to my wife who raids alongside me with minimal addons, on the exact same line.

      • Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Carbonite*

        I can’t edit my post :/

        (But lissanna can!).

        • Tala
          Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          The Leatrix fix cut my latency by about 100 ms. I’ve been running it for about a year and I haven’t noticed any bad side effects (or been banned!) WIM and Carbonite are the two specific examples I’ve heard of; but I don’t think most addons are a problem. Just seems like one more thing to try :)

          • Posted April 19, 2011 at 2:55 am | Permalink

            I feel the peer pressure building ;)

            I’ll try it out asap and let you guys know my findings.

  3. Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    All of the above. I’m South African and I play under those conditions. Quartz has been a lifesaver since TBC times when I raided on 1500 to 2k ms sometimes… The nagle/Leatrix fix is something I do straight away when using a new computer or OS, I wouldn’t play without it. These days its a more manageable 300-400 ms in raids.

    I play feral so casting isn’t too much of an issue altho I’m sure there is some dps loss around having a slightly longer GCD than everyone else, but I cope :-D

    In fact, I was running HoO hc the other day and one guy (shaman I think) remarked that they were giving up on interrupting as I was too fast for them and nailed the interrupts way faster. It was quite a compliment considering :-D

    The only thing that bugs me really is that it takes a second for the boss cast bar to come up to be sure I’m nailing the storm and not the aberrations, and that pesky mage in the EU manages to spellsteal before I even see it… /grumpy

    But it definitely IS possible to be successful raiding on high latency, just not so much in pvp (which is why I dont).

    • Posted April 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I gave up on Arena a long time ago thanks to the lag.

      I’ve heard good things about the registry hack, but like tunneling, I was always too cautious to try it in case there were side effects.

      Thanks for the compliment. I was nervous as hell posting :P

  4. Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Just wanted to say that my guild has some high latency occasionally/constantly and they’ve been going on about the “addon” Leatrix Latency Fix. More like registry editor installer. Perhaps something to look into. However, I am curious what affect the TCPAckFrequency might have and don’t trust it until I understand it. I’ll do some research eventually, but thought it was something to mention.

    Awesome post btw.

  5. Levi
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post! Thank you!

    I’ve been contending with higher latency since earlier 09 when I moved from the UK to Florida. So I’m playing from the US on an EU server where my account(s) were originally purchased.

    • Posted April 19, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      Good post!

      We currently have a few Aussies raiding with my US guild and latency has been a big problem lately and we’ve been trying different solutions so that we don’t have to spend half of our raid missing main interrupts and DPS.

      I can vouch for the Leatrix Latency fix, it lowers my ping by about 200 and it has seemed to work for EU players in my guild as well!

  6. Posted April 19, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    Addons are a significant source of latency. I highly recommend the addon “FuBar Addon Spam” (http://wow.curse.com/downloads/wow-addons/details/fu-bar_addon-spam-fu.aspx) for ever raid leader. The addon tracks how many network packets you have received from other players. This is an exceptional way to identify people who are running addons that are spamming you and your raiders during a raid and contributing to everyone’s latency. Major culprits are Carbonite Quest, oRA2/3, any/all achievement/fail checker, games (Bejeweled/Poker/etc), and WoW Instant Messenger. You should expect to see the most addon packets from healers as their healing addons communicate between each other to show incoming heals (this latency is only received by healers, from healers–tanks and those DPS’ing will not receive this latency). Back in the day, GearScore was a nightmare for latency and was pretty much outlawed by any serious guild (thankfully Blizzard killed the ability for addons like that to exist).

    About 10 minutes into a raid, I look at this addon’s list and see who’s got addons running that need to be disabled off. The difference is sometimes instantly and very noticeable with people who were disconnecting when hit with fire (or similar) no longer disconnecting. Note that people not even in your raid can send you network data–anyone in your guild or friend list (that is character-specific friend list, not battle.net RealID friend list) can send you network data.

    Ultimately, addons play a HUGE part in make latency much worse and a zero-tolerance approach should be applied in not allowing non-essential, high-network usage addons in your guild during raid times, including by those not actively raiding (too bad for the social members leveling up with Carbonite Quest).

    • Berdache
      Posted April 19, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Now this I did not realise .. will be installing it and trying it out

      cheers

  7. Xelantra
    Posted April 19, 2011 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Great post gar! @Lument, another spam monitor alternative if you use LDB/broker displays is the addon SPAMALYZER (http://wow.curse.com/downloads/wow-addons/details/spamalyzer.aspx). I think for those on titanpanel, its also supports LBD? Not sure…..

  8. Posted April 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just installed the Leatrix fix. My ping was sitting around 430-530ms beforehand (I did a good few test casts and noted the lag reported by Quartz). I installed the fix, rebooted, and it’s very hard to say anything for sure, but it does seem to be lingering in the 300-400 region mostly. I’m getting spikes as high as 800, so it’s really hard to say anything conclusive.

    I don’t see any adverse side effects though, so I can’t say I see any reason not to try it. I’ll only really know whether it makes a big difference when I get to raid, and as my guild is in an off week at the moment, that’s going to have to wait till next Sunday ;)

  9. Kathrine
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    I live in Australia and deal with latency, good been 250-300 bad been 300-500 and unplayable been 1000-4000. I use Leatrix fix and a tunnel program to get 250-300 ping without these my average ping is 500 or more. On a positive note Australia is in the process of upgrading our internet and is rolling fiber optic out across the country, I can’t wait :)

    I haven’t used Quartz before and I think I will be adding this to my list anything to help increase my dps and heals is worth a shot.

    In regards to addons yes i use Carbonite but key addon I use is addon control panel. I use this to save 2 different profiles for the same toon first one my running around doing randoms working on achievements the second is for raiding my raiding profile has things like Carbonite and any other unnecessary addons turned off with just the basic addons I need to raid with, I try to keep my addon memory to less than 20MB for raiding, when not raiding my addon memory kind blows out.
    I haven’t used Quartz before and I think I will be adding this to my list anything to help increase my dps and heals is worth a shot

  10. Sarah
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Not entirely true. The interrupt goes off when your command hits the server. So if you have a 400ms lag, that’s 200ms each way. Hit the button at 700ms and it still goes off at 900ms, it’s just another 200ms before your client knows about it. Also, when you’re moving, if you have 400ms lag you need to be 200ms (or 1/5 of a second) ahead of where you think you need to be.

    I’m in Australia, and yeah it’s a pain.

  11. Josefus
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    Now for the next guest post, can you write about playing in strange time zones?
    As a South African playing on a US server, I not only have to contend with the above, VERY familiar problems, I also have to stay awake til midnight before any raids start.

    One thing you didn’t mention was tunneling. Without it, I get 600-800ms, with it I get 300-400ms. It literally halves my ping. The only problem is that the overzealous WoW security tries to lock your account with annoying regularity, for changing IP addresses.

    On that note, can anyone recommend decent wow tunneling services? I currently use LowerPing, and am very happy with them, but I’m always open to suggestions.

    • Posted April 21, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      “I’m not going to talk about tunneling” I’m fairly sure I said exactly what you just did :) Tunneling services have different performance based on country (as they have different entry and exit points). I only know that smoothping works well in South Africa, although I don’t use it myself for fear of being randomly banned.

    • Lissanna
      Posted April 21, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Also, while Garnaph plays in a time zone that isn’t well aligned with US servers, his solution seems to be that he plays on an EU server, so that the time zones more closely align with his schedule. At least, that’s what I’ve been able to figure out. :)

      • Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Quite correct. From what I can tell many SA based players started out in US, before there were EU servers (I started in TBC, well after all of this). Some rerolled on EU, some stayed. I’ve heard horror stories of the times people had to be online for raids that were scheduled on US time. We’re at most 1h different from the EU server time, so it works well for us. Also ofc it’s closer to us, SA to US latency must be truly insane…

  12. Aecasorg
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Hi all.

    For someone based in S-Africa and other distant (to servers) continents, I would recommend the TCPAckFrequency fix. My partner and me have used it for several years as we share a wireless connection with 7 other people. (lag due to bottlenecks rather than distance) You don’t need programs such as Smoothping, because I suspect that this is what they actually do. Also, Blizzard will not ban you since what it does, is change how your computer communicates with internet. It reduces the size of the “packets” of info that get sent out, so that it is easier for it to get past bottlenecks. So more but smaller packets, rather than a few larger packets. This is something that suits MMO games better anyway. It wont affect your normal web surfing, well… none that I have noticed. If it does, then it is easy to revert back to how it was.

    I suggested it to someone in my guild who played from Botswana with a satellite link, and she decreased from 700ms to 400ms, which was great improvement for her.

    For a guide: http://www.learn2playwow.com/Other_Guides/Improving_latency.html
    The guide is a little incorrect, but just use common sense and you’ll get it right.

    Hope this helps, as I feel for everyone who can’t enjoy the game to it’s max due to high latency.

    Cheers!

    Aeca :)

  13. Jon
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    Hi I browsing and noticed last poster said from Botswana, for last few weeks I have had Terrible lag. I’ve already done the registry fix although manually – any different from leatrix? I was wondering if I could maybe ask for a realm and name to can’t with this person regarding ISP etc. It seems from all traces that my lag occurs where info leaves bots. Packet loss etc, but just wow normal browsing is unaffected :(

  14. eric
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Interesting post. I’m a bit puzzled, though, why one would want to continue raiding at all under such frustrating circumstances that can’t be changed. I’m a dedicated raider (been here since Molten Core), but if I ended up living somewhere that I simply could not get a good connection to the servers, I think I would end up pursuing other hobbies instead of WoW.