FFXIV concept: dual targeting

by AJ "Tyron" Martinez @ worldsbe.st • April 1 2021

Hey, it’s that time of year where I write about things that don’t exist with no intention of implementing them. This post sucks, wheeeeeeee

Targeting is hard

Theory: Most things considered “difficult” or “annoying” in FFXIV—the types of things that your classical bad player refuses to do in Duty Finder, like damaging bosses during healing downtime, using utility skills as a DPS, or the goddamn E4N tankswap1—require extra interactions with the targeting system. The party list is far away from the action by default, switching away from your main target to do some other task actually requires a lot of interface work that goes largely unnoticed by veteran players / people who can use a computer, and there aren’t many situations where a struggling player has the opportunity to practice it on their own time.2

If you want to (example) cast Regen on an ally, you have to click that ally on the party list or in the world, cast Regen, and then switch back to the enemy you were previously attacking. You have 2.5 seconds to do that without losing DPS uptime, and if you take any of those actions in the wrong order, you cast Regen on yourself by mistake, probably wasting it.

That probably seems trivial, but if you’ve ever “lost” your cursor and had to shake your mouse around to figure out where the hell it is, it should be easy to feel some empathy for people who find rapid target switches overwhelming. “Target your cotank” can be stated in three words, but actually involves a bunch of smaller motor tasks (and god only knows what controller players are doing); at the very least, Square seems to think this is important, since the entire first boss of Copperbell Mines is designed to give the player practice with moving their camera and targeting enemies.3

Doing marginally better

Most people are comfortable switching targets between enemies; it’s switching from ally to enemy or from enemy to ally that causes problems. If you’re trying to help an ally, you need to do it fast, because you can’t attack enemies until you’re done. Similarly, if you’re trying to quickly tag an enemy, you need to do it fast, because you can’t heal or shield until you’re done.

But…why? It’s not like there’s any overlap between offensive and supportive actions. You can’t Cure the boss, and you can’t Glare your cohealer (even if Monday PF makes you want to commit acts of violence), but routine utility actions basically disable your character until you’ve verified “no, I actually don’t want to sit on my hands and do nothing, I would like to use my weaponskills on the big dickhead I was using them on .5 seconds ago”.

In a perfect world, if the targeting system was designed around the current state of the game with no preconceptions, I think you’d actually have two targets—your Attack Target and your Support Target. Both of these would be displayed in fixed places on your screen, just like the current targeting system; clicking an enemy would change your Attack Target to that enemy, clicking an ally would change your Support Target to that ally, and all actions could pick the correct target type automatically.4

This would change most rapid-targeting tasks from three fast actions (click on temporary target, use ability, click on old target) to two relatively lenient actions (click on temporary target whenever, use ability). The need to reselect enemies is completely gone, and you’d be able to “preselect” your target as early as you wanted, preparing for timing-sensitive situations like tankswaps and busters well in advance. In the critical moment, all you’d have to worry about would be using the right abilities.

Why this might suck

I don’t think this ever breaks muscle memory or existing functionality, with one exception; when you want to selfcast ally-targetable support actions, instead of automatically “soft-targeting” yourself while you’re targeting enemies, you’d have to explicitly target yourself or clear your Support Target. I don’t think this outweighs the benefits of dual-target, but if your favorite job does this a lot (DRK’s TBN comes to mind), you might disagree.

In the worst possible failure mode, overwhelmed or absent-minded players might end up casting supportive actions on an ally who isn’t even on screen, which could be pretty confusing. (“Where did my Cure III go? Oh, it’s on the DNC who’s /sitting at 25 yalms.") This is possible with the current targeting system, but generally you get a bunch of error noises and text when you’re targeting something you don’t expect by mistake, so recovery might be easier.

The extra UI elements might not be justified, either; most players play DPS classes, and the idea of any dedicated function for targeting allies seems vestigial-at-best considering the low number of targeted support actions on that role (is it literally just Manip, Dragon Sight and BRD shit?). IMO, this is a missed job design opportunity, and making it easier for players to use those types of skills would give the designers more breathing room to design encounters around them, but we all know how Square is.

I guess there’s also the chance that this paradigm makes absolutely no sense to anyone but me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  1. Yes, I know, E4N autos are about as threatening as an inflatable pool noodle, but tankswapping is free ↩︎

  2. AI teammates are rarely included in the party list, and even in healer/tank role quests, you’re basically never required to explicitly target them. ↩︎

  3. Granted, the entirety of levels 1-50 seems to be intended for people who have never played a video game before…but these people still enter Duty Finder, so it seems like it’d be to everyone’s benefit if they were more likely to be useful. ↩︎

  4. In the real world, Square doesn’t make changes to FFXIV unless they’re held at gunpoint, so a naive way of implementing this with no UI changes (possibly as an XIVLauncher plugin) would be simpler: allow abilities cast at the “wrong” type of target to attempt to cast themselves at your previous target instead.

    There are perks to doing it the “hard” way, though; for instance, healers get a dedicated screen location to check up on their main tank’s HP and cooldowns. ↩︎