In this whole ‘situational awareness’ series I have focused on maneuvering your character. That is because the art of being situational aware starts with being about to see and interact with your environment. If you are constantly distracted with turning and moving then you will not have the mental bandwidth to also observe and assess your surroundings. The smoother and faster you can move and look the easier it will be to assess things. If you become disoriented or confused situational awareness goes right out the window. So let’s get to something a lot of people seem to have trouble with.
Maneuvering and navigating in three dimensions
This really messes up a lot of people. To be perfectly honest I have to use my imagination to figure out why. This is something I do instinctively. I think a lot of that comes from my IRL experience with flying and also a lot of gaming experience with flight simulators. So why does all that help? And why do other people have problems? Because there are concepts in 3D navigation and maneuvering that are not in a land based game. More accurately they ARE in the land based game but they are so simplified that you don’t notice them. The big one is…
Point of aim
Now some of you are thinking “that is not it. I have no problem with that concept.” Maybe that is true but this is the big difference in WOW with flying versus walking. On the ground you are only concerned with direction of your travel. You have several ways of seeing your direction of travel on the ground.
You can look at your character and compare it to the land around you on the screen.
You can mentally draw a line straight up the screen from your character and see where that points.
You can just vaguely estimate what is way in front of you.
You can look at the arrow on your mini map
You can also look at the arrow on your big map.
Those are all ways you can see where you are pointed…. But the BIG crutch comes from having the environment around you. What I mean is that you CONSTANTLY get little feedback from everything around you and that lets you continuously update your characters heading as you travel. Do you ever point your character in a direction, press the auto run, and then walk away from the keyboard? When you come back are you exactly where you expected to be? Do you take short cuts across country or do you always follow the road?
If you are mostly using your immediate surroundings to navigate and orient your character then you probably tend to follow the road exactly and you most likely rarely just aim across country and then go hit the head or grab a drink.
What I am trying to get you to think about is that list of methods above. Which of those do you use? It is something we do so instinctively that we might not know. Once we start flying some of those thing are taken away from us. If we were heavily using one of those the flying will cause a sense of disorientation. If we were relying heavily on one of the ones that did NOT go away then flying will be no different than anything else. That statement is a simplification but I hope it gets the point across.
So what is the list of nav aids for flying? How do we orient ourselves up there?
Well the map and mini map still work…. Except they are only in one axis. They help us navigate in a plane (geometric plane, not aeroplane) but they are no help for getting us oriented in the other axis.
What else? We can’t draw a line from our character to the top of the screen. It does not work right. We can’t compare constantly to the objects around us because they are far away and don’t give high fidelity feedback. What I mean is they don’t move fast enough and far enough to give us an instant awareness of where we are pointed. You have to look at them more closely and then check again and even then you are off track.
So what does work? Aim point. In flying your point of aim is king (just be glad we don’t have wind to deal with). BUT! Once you leave the ground your point of aim changes! I expect this really messes a lot of folks up that are new to flying.
Normally in this 3rd person view point game you have a camera that is behind and above you. It is NOT on your line of travel. It is above your line of travel and looking down at it. By line of travel I mean what it says. I mean the line you travel along on the ground.
In this picture the eye is your camera and the figure is your character. We are looking at it from the side. The person is running straight to the right and the camera is behind them and looking down at an angle. If you pan your camera all the way down to the ground you would be looking straight along that ‘line of travel’. The character would actually block you from seeing where you are going. Where you will eventually end up is straight ahead, through your character and off to the horizon.
This is how the camera works when flying! It goes from following you from above and behind to following you just straight behind. Except that it does not automatically move. Your character does the moving. The instant you take off on your dragon mount your character pitches forward ‘nose down’ and is aiming, not at the horizon, but into the ground a few yards in front of you. The first thing you do when taking off on your flying mount is to drop your camera down to your line of travel.
That is step one. The next step to travelling in the air is to stop key turning! Seriously! You can’t key turn while flying and expect to have any sort of awareness of where you are headed. When it comes to flying your right mouse button is everything. The only keys you need while flying are W and your right mouse button…. Well the space bar and X come in handy but I will get to that.
So here you are, flying. You hold down the right mouse button and hold down W and you are off. It is incredibly simple. You simply put your character on top of where you want to go. What I mean is that your direction of travel is though the mounted figure on your screen. If you are aimed at where you want to go that location will be in the dead center of your screen and covered up by your figure. Fortunately your figure is small enough that you can still tell where you are going. If your figure is NOT small enough then zoom out more. If you can’t zoom out enough go into the interface settings and crank up your max camera follow distance.
If you are one of those that is constantly getting lost in Oculus I recommend trying to ‘break it down’. Think of the place as a building with 4 floors. Each floor is made up of all the floaty platforms that are roughly on the same level as each other. Each floor has things you need to clear and a boss at the end.
The first floor is the ring you start off on It includes the ‘C’ shaped ring and the platform where you get your dragon.
Once you get your mount you immediately go to the ‘second floor’. This ‘floor’ is made up of a ‘C’ shaped ring in the center and 3 platforms equally spaced around it. Two of those platforms have packs to kill and one has the boss. As soon as you spot which the boss is on your know exactly where to find the two with packs. You clear all the stuff on that floor and then do the boss.
As soon as you are done with him it is time to go straight up to floor three. Make it easier on yourself; just hold down spare bar until you get there. This floor has three ‘arc shaped’ platforms and a central ring. The ring is slightly lower than the platforms. The ring also has a second ring that is right below it but we don’t care about that one so don’t let it confuse you; just ignore it. If you go STRAIGHT up from the last boss you will be right next to the platform you need to start one. From there you just go clockwise around to the other two and then from the last one you go straight into the center ring to find the boss.
Now you are on to the fourth and final floor. To get there just fly out a decent ways from the boss you just killed and then hold down spacebar until you reach the top. This ‘floor’ is made of three tiny platforms and one BIG wide ring. The dragon flies in circles over the big ring. Most groups meet up at one of the small platforms so find the, meet up, and finish the place off.
This is a classic example of breaking something big and confusing into bites-size bits that are all understandable and all together form a simple pattern. You can avoid the confusion of the ‘3D-ness’ of the place by breaking it down into mental bite sizes that are all in 2D.
Practicing navigation is easy but should be done anytime you have the chance. It is very simple. Start traveling somewhere. Aim where you are trying to go by comparing the horizon, mini map, and main map to your direction of travel. Do all that aiming stuff right up front. Then don’t touch the controls. Just watch and see how well your aiming worked. Allow yourself just one ‘mid course correction’ when you are about half way to your destination. How far off are you when you get there? Try doing it with no correction and challenge yourself to get it right every time.
If you don’t have an excuse to fly around, go to Icecrown and grind various daily quests. There are tons of them there and at max level they are good money. Just pick a few that you know you can do fast and easily and then run them. As you move between thempractice this exercise.
Exercise 1: Buzz the tower.
This is for if you are not use to the concept of ‘flying’ your character by continuously holding down the right mouse button. Fly low. Buzz things. Try to get close to them without landing or hitting them. Once you fly past it make a wide turn and sing back for another pass.
Exercise 2: Aerial Slaloms.
Go find a forest. Western Dragonblight works. Fly low between the trees. Weave in and out between them. Now do it while trying to fly generally in the same direction. I mean try to keep going east while still weaving in and out. Even go around trees you don’t really NEED to dodge. Go out of your way to go around trees. But still try to work your way in a general direction. If the ‘weaving’ is too tough don’t worry about the ‘general direction’ thing. Just weave until you run out of trees and then turn around and go again. Feel free to use AQE and D to maneuver sideways a little. In fact be sure to mess with those some.
Exercise 3: Static Bombing Runs.
There are a number of quests and repeatable missions in the game involving dropping bombs on people, demons, fish, pirates, siege weapons, etc. These are great flying and situational awareness practice. Why? Because they require you to maneuver your camera independent of your direction for travel and track targets with it as you perform a basic attack. That is great. For an advanced version that is still a static run (by static I mean you don’t control the path; it just follows a fixed path) you can do the dailies in Icecrown. The one where you drop off paratroopers is pretty unforgiving; so that is a good challenge. The bomber base up on the spire is also a good one for advanced practice. Those have bombing and air-to-air action so they require more situational awareness.
Exercise 4: dynamic bombing runs.
These are ones where you are maneuvering your mount, avoiding counter attack, AND bombing something. The two I can think of off the top of my head are both Skyguard daily quests. One is in Terokar to bomb eggs and the other is in Blade’s Edge and is bombing piles of ammo at the demon base. Both of those are far simpler than Northrend mounted combat but still require the situational awareness skills. You have to maneuver your mount, dodge in various directions and keep an eye on your health while still finding the targets and hitting them.
Exercise 5: All-Out Flying Combat.
In dragonblight there is a nice dragon flying daily. Also high above Coldarra there is a daily quest involving flying dragons that is pretty challenging. Both of them do not require a group so it is a low pressure way to practice your skills.
Cataclysm will have even more flying than ever so get your practice in when and where you can.