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The Art of War(craft): Motion Theory Part I

Zach Yonzon

I was looking through some of the career (class) descriptions over at Warhammer Online, EA Mythic's much-anticipated MMORPG which touts a rich PvP experience as one of its selling points, and happened to go over their description of the combat system. Listening to one of their amusing podcasts, I got the impression that some careers (classes) move faster than others. This struck me as odd, if only because I've grown accustomed to something we take for granted in World of Warcraft. In WoW, all classes and races move at the same speed. With the exception of enchants, spells, or talents, all characters move at exactly the same pace. Size changes that perception somewhat, with Tauren seeming to move at a plodding step and Gnomes waltzing around like Oompa-loompas hopped up on too much caffeine.

The martial arts is all about speed, about movement where there needs to be movement. More importantly, it is about freedom of movement. Speed is essential, but it can also be arbitrary because there are so many factors that affect it. Latency, computer power... all these things contribute to one's speed or reaction time -- or more accurately, how that reaction time translates into action within the game. That's another matter altogether. What we're going to look at today is movement. How we move, how fast we move, and how we can move better. When fighting a computer-controlled mob, with the exception of scripted events or certain boss phases, there is very little urgency to move. It's easy to kill most mobs by standing still and just attacking or casting spells. PvP, on the other hand, is all about movement. Standing still is tantamount to certain death.

Freedom (of movement) is everything
In PvP, opponents will actively try to move out of your range of vision, or your cone of attack. Ranged classes will try to kite you, and melee classes will attempt to close in. Melee fighters going up against other melee fighters will try to go behind their opponents, negating their attack. This is why movement-impairing and incapacitate effects are some of the most important PvP abilities. Going through Warhammer Online's careers or classes, I found the Death Knight-like Chaos Chosen to be interesting but quickly had reservations upon finding out they were the Tank archetype, whose fighting style Senior Designer Josh Drescher described as "slow but powerful". Initially, I had thought this only referred to attacks, but later in the podcast, he mentions "slow-moving, heavily armored tanks," setting off alarm bells in my head. My gut reaction was that I don't want to move slow, and I'm willing to wager that few people do, either.

I digress. The point is, in WoW, all classes have the same base movement speed. This is important because at least as far as motion is concerned, all classes are on equal footing. Anyone who has ever participated in PvP in WoW will probably agree that movement is important. For ranged classes, movement is integral to kiting, which requires constant motion. The only time movement pauses during kiting is in order to cast, and even then it should be done sparingly and prudently. This is why instant cast spells and abilities are extremely valuable -- not simply because they are cast quickly, but because they can be cast while moving. Talents that grant instant cast to spells such as Nature's Swiftness for Druids and Shamans, or Presence of Mind for Mages help to keep motion uninterrupted. An instant heal or Pyroblast are all part of a kiter's repertoire.

Conversely, kiters and close quarters combatants alike do well to find ways to slow down their opponents. Even if it doesn't result in closing or widening the distance between you and your opponent, a slowing effect can be detrimental to your opponent's gameplay. Being slowed is annoying, frustrating, and sometimes even infuriating. It can throw people off their game. There are few things more annoying (or frustrating, or infuriating) than having your opponent one spell or attack away from a killing blow only to have them move out of range. Classes that have slowing abilities or snare effects spam them in combat. It's an effective way to PvP. Now, knowing that you need to keep moving is one thing... but how do you move? Are you a keyboard turner?

Keyboard turning and you
You might have heard of the term 'keyboard turner' before; what this refers to is a player who uses his keyboard -- particularly the A and D (or left and right arrow) keys -- to turn or move, rather than the mouse. In WoW's default settings, holding down the Right mouse button will make your character turn in the direction you move your mouse while holding down both Right and Left mouse buttons (i.e., the 'Middle' button) will make your character move forward. A great number of hardcore PvP players scoff at the often-ridiculed keyboard turner. I am of the firm opinion, however, that you'll do just fine using your arrow or W, A, S, D keys for WoW PvP. In fact, particularly for healing classes (we love to PvP, too), mouse-driven movement often even hampers ally selection for healing because pressing down on the Right or Middle mouse buttons disables the selection cursor.

That said, one thing must be made clear: turning or rotating with the mouse is faster than using the keyboard. There simply is no argument here. Turning with the keyboard is capped at a particular speed because it turns in increments. The same principle that allows slow, precise rotation in small increments is the same one that limits keyboard turning, no matter how hard you press down on the keys. On the other hand, turning with your mouse is only limited by your mouse's sensitivity and how fast you can move it -- turning around using a keyboard can take about a second, while doing a 180° using a mouse is instantaneous. Moving forward is the same, but using the Middle mouse button to move forward and turn is extremely fast, the one caveat being that it's often too fast, sometimes making you overshoot your target when engaged (or cause vertigo if your hands are jittery from too much Red Bull).

Aside from rapid movement, mouse control frees one hand to execute spells or abilities through key bindings as opposed to clicking on the spells on-screen. A player who clicks on his spells or abilities through the icons is called a 'clicker', a derogatory description almost as frowned upon as keyboard turner. It's good practice to familiarize oneself with using key bindings because it's immensely faster than moving the cursor to select abilities. For healers, who need to select targets -- either through raid frames or a mouseover macro (which doesn't require you to change target) -- using key bindings frees the mouse for selection. In general, using mouse movement and key bindings contribute to fluid gameplay. However, the most important thing is that you are comfortable with the way you play.

WoW isn't a first person shooter, and turning with your mouse isn't nearly as game breaking as it is in Counterstrike or Quake III. Unlike FPS games, WoW's combat system doesn't require manual targeting. Simply select your target and attacks or spells will automatically head for your target provided they're in your effective line of sight, and sometimes -- as in the case of DoTs, for example -- not even. There are no headshots or virtual instagibs, and bunny hopping is more for flair than it is for tactics. Strafing is cool and all, but considering how casting actually rotates characters in place following their target (ranged classes are cheesy that way) through the arc of their attack cone, it just isn't as important as it is in an FPS.

Where mouse movement shines, however, is in melee combat. Virtually all melee special abilities are instant and with combat up close, the game's auto-follow targeting doesn't apply. For melee classes, mouse movement vastly enhances performance. A keyboard turner will find it extremely difficult to find the proper facing when up against an experienced mouse mover. If you've ever been Distracted by a Rogue to do a 180° turn, you'll understand what it means to have instant rotation. That's how fast mouse controls can turn. Keyboard rotation is only a fraction of that speed. This isn't a question of skill, it's a limitation of the game. Turning via keyboard is just slower.

Does this mean that if you use your mouse to move you're better than other players? Probably not. But you'll certainly turn around faster, and if you PvP, that's a pretty good place to start. Other people feel comfortable with a mix of keyboard and mouse movement, while others are content using purely the keyboard to move. All of it is perfectly fine. If you're comfortable with your pace, your speed, and you can hit your targets as well as escape opponents, then you're playing the way you're supposed to play. If, on the other hand, you often have facing or line of sight issues while using purely keyboard controls, you might want to explore using the mouse to move and turn. Whatever the case, learn to embrace movement. Abhor stillness. In PvP, there are only two kinds of players... the Quick and the Dead (that's your cue to go and watch some Sam Raimi films now).

Next week: A look at class skills and talents that enhance or restrict movement, as well as enchants, items, and other game mechanics that affect movement in the World of Warcraft.

Zach Yonzon writes the (more or less) weekly PvP article The Art of War(craft) while using a WACOM pen tablet to PvP. Honest.

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