Moving while casting: Spawn of Satan or freedom from restrictions?

My previous post on five features that I’d like to see spread to other MMOs I play sparked an interesting discussion over the merits and pitfalls of casting while moving.  Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to be against it; I always saw the “need to stand stock-still to cast a spell” as an unnecessary relic of old school MMO design that required heavy-handed balance to smack those ranged powerhouses down to a mortal level.  As in, it might have been necessary and standard back in the day, but it’s become a creaky element that isn’t as welcome nowadays.

But there are obviously two camps when it comes to this issue, so I wanted to clarify why I think it’s great that we’re seeing this feature go bye-bye.

First of all, I’m not a developer but a gamer.  I don’t care — nor do I have to care — about balance difficulties or whatnot when it comes to MMOs.  I just report from my perspective, which is a gamer.  And my perspective is that casting while moving is fun and freeing, while needing to come to a screeching halt and standing still like a redcoated British soldier during the Revolutionary war while I slooowly load my musket under withering enemy fire is annoying.  Maybe that was the solution for “balancing” a long-range damage dealer a while back, but if devs can’t figure out other ways without breaking down into gibbering panic, then that’s on them, not me.

You see, movement is essential to gaming.  I don’t need to always be moving in a fight, but it’s nice to know that I have the option.  And it feels more natural, too.  Even in MMOs where my moving back and forth, jumping, or “dodging” has absolutely no impact on what the behind-the-scenes die rolls say, I still like to do it because standing still in the face of a mobile enemy makes me feel foolish.  Moving during fights feels far more dynamic, even if it’s the occasional repositioning for a shot or jumping out of a pool of fire.  Stupid fire pools, the one place where you should pee in them and yet your raid leader never lets you.

I’m not a strong advocate for real-time combat in MMOs, mind you; I like the back-and-forth, and would probably be equally irked if a game made me memorize all sorts of combo moves just to survive a fight.  But whether it’s action-clicking in DDO, stunning and then backstabbing a droid in SWTOR, dodging a fireball in GW2, or strafing while I’m loading up a potent spell in TSW, the movement makes combat more exciting.

But perhaps more than all of this is the unnecessary crippling of spellcasters that result in classes being far less enjoyable than they should be.  I never understood why ranged bow/gun users, for example, often had a huge slew of instant-cast attacks, decent armor, and good damage, while the terry cloth robe-wearing mages were forced to stand in place while doing essentially the same long-distance attacks.  It started to feel even more unfair as melee fighters were given several abilities of their own to do damage at range and close ranged gaps quickly.  The rock-paper-scissors balance evolved except in this one area.

Having played several spellcasters, I can attest that it’s not just the immobility that proves irksome, but how picky the game is when it comes to letting you cast.  As a previous commenter said, you have to come to a dead stop to start casting, which means that error messages become standard as you try to stop and cast without your avatar slowing down on a dime.  That wastes precious time as you get that error message, have to check that you’ve fully stopped, and then try to cast again.  It’s not enjoyable in the least.

Or what about being a healer with long cast times?  I’ve shaken my fist at the screen more times than I can count because I’m trying to help Mr. Dying Pants over there, but because he’s able to be mobile and I have to stand stock-still through a three-second cast, he’s got three seconds to accidentally duck around a corner or an object that obscures and breaks the cast.  Why can’t I just run after him, prepping the spell on the go?

Listen, I play MMOs like RIFT, LOTRO and SWTOR that retain the casters-must-stand-still design, and after having tasted the alternative with TSW and GW2, it’s just not as much fun to return to that.  I can adapt and play by the game’s rules, but I’m stating that I have a personal preference that casters should get to move.  Devs have made it work, and work well, in the latter two titles (and other games that I don’t frequent at the moment), and I’ve never once heard someone in either game lament that casters moving was a horrible design decision.  Cling to the past if you will, but I like my wheels round, not square.

23 thoughts on “Moving while casting: Spawn of Satan or freedom from restrictions?

  1. Well, they do still use artillery and other somewhat stationary attackers in modern warfare. It’s not unheard of. Still, they tend to be larger units than the “boots on the ground” that we play as when we’re traipsing around these MMO worlds. Maybe there’s a place for turrets/catapults/artillery and that sort of thing that players can man for a time if they want hard-hitting, stationary firing platforms, but when it comes to player-level, casting on the move is best for preserving the sense of freedom and motion?

    It really does depend on what sort of game you’re making. There are many ways to balance classes.

    I do come down firmly in the “let them move” camp, simply because it is more engaging. To each their own, certainly, that’s just my preference as a player and a novice designer.

  2. I’ve played a lot of Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World recently, both of which encourage mobility amongst all classes. Although I think GW2 tended to go for more glass and not enough cannon, I’m overall pleased with how they turned out.

    It’s also leaked into other MMOs. The Harbinger soul in Rift: Storm Legion is an absolute riot to play, precisely because you have mobility options galore. At last, going in melee is a viable option.

    Going back to Mists of Pandaria doesn’t just feel like a retrograde step by comparison, it feels quaint and old-fashioned. My mage feels slow, stilted and lacking finesse. I’ve considered trying out the Monk class, but if the masters of the arcane can’t learn a few new tricks then what hope is there?

  3. To take Vanguard as an example (again..) there you can move while casting.. only with half speed. It is an interesting combination, not good enough to do serious kiting, but better than standing like a statue, especially when you apply buffs while running, or something similar.

  4. This seems to be just more of the same from the last post. I do not see anything new here, aside from complaining about movement quirks in some games.

    You want convenience and don’t care about lore or history or balance. That’s fine. Lots of people out there want easy mode, and it sounds like you have your wish in a couple of games.

    But as somebody who plays a caster regularly as well, I do not agree that we need to go back and redo every MMO to meet your whim. I see the movement restrictions as completely appropriate to the power give to, and the lore behind, casters and I would rather see devs spend their time on other things than having to rebalanced a whole system again.

  5. I’ll second Gazimoff’s point about MoP. Even the shaman I tried out, with a few melee abilities, felt handicapped when having to settle down to cast a lightning bolt or something. As caster in previous iterations of WoW, I got stun locked too many times by a rogue coming out of stealth to buy into the “melee have to move in close, so ranged casters should have to stand still” excuse. The warriors might have a little more to cry about in that context. It certainly never felt balanced to me.

    The old-school arguments about things being correct the way they were forget or ignore that almost everything in a game is a design decision. The choice to balance this or that class against another can be done a bunch of ways.

  6. The entire “stand to cast” issue is a sandbox problem – originating with D&D. If your caster can acquire the same defensive capabilities as a warrior/tank and still attack with amazing power from range, there needs to be a trade-off.

    When UO first launched, the mage-tank was a supremely powerful build. All the defensive and offensive advantages into one. The tradeoff was standing to cast BUT the cast times were super fast and you could “pre-cast”. I killed hundreds of folks with that build. Then it got nerfed to the ground.

    I agree with you though, the “stand to cast” issue doesn’t fit into a role-based themepark. At least, it shouldn’t destroy your character options. Having a couple “build power to do more damage” abilities is fun. It’s the basis for Rogues in WoW afterall.

    How do you feel about the ability to heal while moving?

  7. Games should be about choices. When you have to move or cast, but can’t do both, it’s a choice you have to make. Can you stay in one place safely enough? Are you close enough to Mr. Dying Pants to get the spell off? Forcing you to be stationary while casting requires more forethought – you can’t just run-n-gun all the time, you have to be more aware of your environment and plan those few seconds ahead.

    I like the GW2 system, and being able to move while casting works just fine. But that doesn’t mean that a stationary system is somehow old our outdated and needs to be banished from the lexicon of game design. Choices like this are the core of game design, and still a staple of current, modern games in the offline realm. So at the very least if you’re going to rail against “game design” you should probably use a smaller brush.

  8. I think the GW2 model is dumb, to be honest. I enjoyed the freedom and “dynamism” as you did, but it’s really just fake and paper-thin. Many ranged attacks are homing-missiles, melee has PLENTY of gap-closers and snares, every dragon fight (and the majority of DEs) I have participated in involved me just standing still anyway, so it all amounts to… what? Pressing WASD for the sake of pressing WASD. It was amusing circle-strafing mobs leveling up, but many Risen run around at 300% speed and movement more often then not just ruins the directional attacks you do possess.

    I’m also with Buhallin on the Choice front. Do you risk hard-casting that Fear, or do blow a cooldown on a shorter-duration version? That’s an interesting choice. Or think about what happens when a melee character ignores a spellcaster in WoW vs GW2. In the latter… the caster deals exactly the same amount of damage they ever would, and moving is pointless. In the former, melee is (usually) punished pretty severely for letting a caster free-cast. It creates a dynamic that simply doesn’t exist in GW2.

    Finally, on the “realism” angle… really? How accurate is someone firing a gun while sprinting sideways? Or backwards, for that matter? There is nothing particularly realistic about being 100% effective in one’s attacks regardless of moving or being stationary – not just from a lore standpoint, but from an intuitive logical standpoint.

  9. As I mentioned in the other thread and as Vagabond says above, Vanguard has (and has had for five years) the most pleasurable implementation of casting that I’ve seen. You can move enough to avoid the annoying interrupts but you still have to pay full attention to your situation.

    I think the part you are missing is that some of us *like* standing still to cast. The healing scenario you describe with the long cast times and the target moving out of range sums up very well one of the things I liked most about playing a cleric in Everquest. I want that situational awareness to play a big part, both for me as the healer and for the player whose character I’m trying to heal. I want getting a big heal or a timely heal off to matter. I want the chance to fail.

    The further you reduce the chance to fail, the further you reduce the chance for success to matter. Beyond a certain point not mattering becomes not playing.

  10. Just to add, the Elem in GW2 is gimped for damage because of their kiting ability. Great if you enjoy endless kiting (in a game with DAoC-like CC, but yea), but not so great if you don’t want to play the circle-jerk game with a class that traditionally is anything BUT that playstyle.

    The examples you used are pretty poor too. If you are getting error messages about moving while trying to cast, that’s poor design in terms of controls, not poor design because you can’t cast and move. The tank moving out of LoS? That’s part of the challenge in raiding, and removing it just makes things that much simpler, and results in more Simon Says design. The reason PvE in DF does not need that kind of silly scripting is because basic things like aim and LoS are not removed or gimmicky.

    You have to consider what impact removing the restriction causes beyond just “yay I can move and spam now!” You might not fully like the result (GW2 PvE at 80)

  11. Sure, I get what you’re saying, Syp. I even agree a little. My Thing is that I get *incredibly* motion sick while playing games like first person shooters. I play Lotro a bit and one of the reasons idont go out in the ‘moors much on my rk is because I need to move around to much to stay alive.
    So an entirely selfish concern but the five D’s (dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge) make me ill. Yes, even in third person view.

  12. I swear some of the people here (especially the Syncaine rent-a-crowd) are stuck in the old D&D days of rigid rules. And then Wilhelm trots out “lore” as a reason not to have move while casting? What a load of baloney!I think you guys need to stay with your old school games and geriatric game servers. Obviously the new world order of MMO’s is beyond you.

  13. Motion sickness is understandable. I’m not a big fan of the camera whipping around at all (such as Wizard101’s constant camera motion).

  14. Your historical analogy is faulty: the people shooting the British redcoats would have been stationary when they were shooting them too. 🙂

    Of course I also fall on the side of essentially not understanding the issue here. Sounds too much like you want all classes to play the same.

  15. If moving while casting has advantages (mitigate damage) and no disadvantages (reduced DPS/HPS) and content (PvE/PvP) is sufficiently challenging, then constant movement becomes mandatory.

    It is the balance between optimal DPS/HPS vs movement that makes hotbar themeparks fun, particularly ‘dance’-based raiding. I would hate a raiding environment where everyone has auto-run locked down or is spamming circle strafe macros.

  16. Some of these arguments in opposition of movement are just silly. Lore? What? As for forcing you to make choices, there were no choices. If you’re in red, you have to stop casting and move just like any other game…unless you really hate your healer.

    I’m also highly prone to motion sickness but GW2 rarely bothers me. I went from not gaming at all to playing incessantly the first BWE, and I didn’t get sick at all compared to WoW, which I could only play for an hour or two the first few weeks until I adjusted.

    I like that I actually have to think on my feet in GW2 instead of just cycling through a set rotation. Shot rotation, shot rotation. Move out of ring. Shot rotation shot rotation. Move out of ring. It’s like when people say the lack of a holy trinity removes the challenge and coordination. With a few exceptions (typically in raid encounters), teamwork in a holy trinity game begins and ends at role selection. And there’s nothing challenging about set roles because you’re always doing the same thing with minimal variation.

    People don’t like being able to move because it’s easier. We like it for the same reason we like the ability to jump. The more mobility we have, the better it feels. And I definitely prefer going mobile on my ele after too many years of playing a mage. I even sacrifice the high damage of fire for the mobility of air. It just feels good, but it’s definitely not easier. If I wanted easy, especially in WvW, I’d sit back with a staff casting fire spells. Instead, I like to be there in the thick of it with dagger/dagger and air. It’s tough and it’s dangerous, but it’s fun.

  17. In TSW you can move while casting, but at half speed. So there is a trade-off (and a tactical decision).

    On the other hand, GW2 doesn’t penalize you for moving and as a result the game has been tuned to take that into consideration. What that means is that at the later stages of the content you are required to move all the time for you to be effective/be able to survive – and it gets tiring very very quickly.

    I prefer TSW’s approach, hands down. It just feels more… RPG-ish…

  18. thank you syp, for making the signs and thank you commenters for being so kind as to hold them in plain sight.

  19. Nice article Syp, I also enjoy casting on the move in GW2, it makes the game fun for me. Remember ground of power in Rift, that was there attempt to buff “Stand and cast” mages but by everyone’s opinion and experience, was a huge mistake.

  20. I’m with bhagpuss on this, I would be sad if standing to cast went the way of the dodo, non-soulbound loot, and meaningful crafting professions. Casting vs movement added a meaningful choice to playing a spellcaster that had to be weighed at every moment. Without that choice spellcasters are just a hunter/ranger/whatever with a different skin.

    As an anecdote, I was attracted to the Black Mage class way back in FFXI in 2002 because it had the big kabooms; a product of big numbers, big spell effects, and big cast times that made things feel even more impactful.

    But, I was never able to play a Mage in WoW because everybody had the same bloody numbers, everybody had big spell effects, and the rapid cast times & abundance of instants made everything feel completely inconsequential.

    The GW2 Elementalist has everything I hated about the Mage and more to boot. They don’t even have to worry about sodding elemental resistances ffs. But that’s a rant on GW2s removal of complexity that isn’t for this time or place.

    Suffice it to say I vastly preferred casting Thunder IV over bloody Dragon’s Tooth.

  21. “As for forcing you to make choices, there were no choices. If you’re in red, you have to stop casting and move just like any other game…unless you really hate your healer.”

    That is a choice. Have you never had that final push close to the end of a big fight where everyone just abandons everything to try and finish off the target?

    It’s certainly an arguable point whether or not those choices are presented well – I happen to think the mechanics for most high-end encounters in MMOs are pretty atrocious. If those encounters fail to properly utilize the range of choices available to a player, that’s the fault of the encounter design, not anything that relates specifically to movement or not.

  22. Incidentally, on of the ways that GW2 copes with the increased complexity of constant movement is by limiting the numbers of spells you can cast.

    It is far more straightforward to circle-strafe and cast 1 of 5 spells then to manage a WoW rotation of 5, as well as damage CDs, interrupts, CCs and off-heals.

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