Last week I wrote a post about one of the player-driven factors that I think makes for a great in-game tank–situational awareness. In it, I wrote that good situational awareness is something that can’t be caught, but it can be learned. You go, you tank, you die, you wipe, you hork things up, and you learn by sheer experience. It can be painful, and expensive, and time-consuming, but speaking as somebody who learned by that method, it just works.
But I did come up with at least one way that you might be able to help improve your situational awareness…well, maybe not one “way,” but at least one concept to think about. That concept is filtering the information that you have to process in order to build your SA. (By the way, this concept holds true for anybody, regardless of your role. Healers, DPS, doesn’t matter. I’m just going to look at it from the view of a tank because that’s the role I play in-game most often.)
Here’s what I mean by that. We know that if you’re a tank, you have a lot of things to worry about. Health, agro, positioning, adds, timing, your own cooldowns, and so on. But there are some things that you don’t need to know about. For example, if I’m tanking Kel’Thuzad, I don’t really need to know that one of our druids just dropped a big heal on our hunter who just ate a frost volley. That is not a piece of information I need to do my job. So why should I include it in the stream of information I have to take in and process?
So for me, that means that when I’m on a raid, since I don’t have a healer, I don’t run raidframes. Ever. Quite frankly, there’s two health bars I care about 99.9% of the time…mine, and whatever’s eating my face. Period. (If I’m on my hunter, add a third–my pet.) I have my normal five-man party healthbars up on the left, just because I’ve been too lazy to modify that frame. But especially in 25-mans, I need the screen real estate that 25 health bars would take up.
Another example. I’m addicted to Scrolling Combat Text. It’s a kick-ass addon, still better than the built-in Blizzard combat text. But SCT can absolutely bombard you with information. Ever left heals turned on and run with a shadow priest and a paladin? HOLY GREEN SPAM, BATMAN. Now as a tank, I like knowing that I’m getting healed. But generally, I don’t need to know the details. Especially when I’m getting a heal or replenishment constantly–say, Blood Aura, or Judgement of Whatever Heals Me Every Time I Smack The Mob, or similar stuff. So I’m going to turn those off. I’ll keep track of my heals by looking at my health bar and watching for SCT “low health” visual and audio warnings. It’s that much less stuff that I’ve got to look at and interpret. Other folks use a HUD-style interface to do the same thing, giving them mob health and their health/mana/energy/RP at a glance without having to even look to the upper-left of the screen.
Basically, my advice would be this: Take a little time about what you need to know to do your job. Then group that information into categories–like, say, “got to have,” “nice to have,” “don’t need.” Once you’ve done that, you can start looking at your interface, your window into WoW. Think about configuring your UI to maximize the important information, and drop the things you don’t need.
Get rid of as much clutter as possible. I personally like running with as much screen real estate wide-open as I can so I can see things. (This, BTW, was why I always hated back-into-the-corner fights like Prince Malchezzar. I really don’t want to spend four minutes trying to tank blind, relying on other people to tell me where to move, and seeing nothing but flashing lights, yellow numbers, and Eredar package.)
Strip your UI down to the essentials, use what’s needed, drop what’s unneeded. You probably don’t actually need to have Recount open during a fight unless you’re wanking off to your l33t d33ps…but you might want to have Omen open instead to make sure where you are on the Threat Parade. Are all those flashing lights and patterns causing problems? Turn your spell effects down. Can’t hear Vent? Ratchet your in-game sound down so you can.
Basically, use your UI as your first line of defense against information overload. Filter out the extraneous garbage, and give your brain a little more bandwidth to handle the important stuff. You’ll thank yourself when you walk out of a raid with a lot smaller headache than normal.