Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Old-time raiding

My guild has a levelling group, doing Burning Crusade raids. We've been seeing dungeons at the appropriate level, and now we're at level 70, we've finished all the Burning Crusade HC dungeons, and started the BC raids, even though we're struggling to get a full team. We did Karazhan last week. I think we'd all seen that raid already, soloing it on our 90s for transmogrification gear at some time or other. But of course level 90s cut through these bosses like a hot knife through butter, usually totalling the bosses before they get a chance to show all their abilities. So we were excited to be doing it at level 70, to see it as it was originally meant to be seen.

Only trouble was, we couldn't muster more than seven or eight people. Karazhan, as you need not be told, is a ten-man raid. We gave it a go, anyway, and did better than we expected. Sure, we had a few wipes as we figured out tactics, but really, we were never blocked. We managed to get to the end of the instance in two nights (each of which included an awful lot of running about, lost, trying to find where our corpses were, or where the next encounter was). Finally we killed Prince Malchezaar (and his beautiful bow dropped). It seemed a little too easy, since we were seven at the time, but I put it down to our gear, which included some Northrend pieces and some heirloom pieces. Anyway, we had a great time.

To round off the evening, we thought we'd just quickly head over to Magtheridon's Lair, to get a foretaste of the problems we'd have in a 25-man raid. Not too bad, we survived the trash, and managed to get it all down, even though we were still only eight. Then onto the boss. A couple of wipes there, but then we found a strategy that worked, and we managed to kill Magtheridon! Well, that was definitely challenging. But really, it should have been impossible. Eight level 70s managed to get down Magtheridon? That's more than just better gear. What's going on?

My first thought is that Magtheridon has been nerfed horribly since his heyday. But then I noticed an article on the blog I like Pancakes wherein Saxsymage remembered that 400 DPS used to be common for level 70s, and she had 700 DPS in Karazhan back in the day. Our top level 70 damage-dealer had over 3000 DPS last week in Karazhan and Magtheridon's Lair. Sure, Magtheridon may have been nerfed, but the real nerf to content has been the buff to player stats.

This is something I hadn't really paid much attention to, before. Sure, I knew that new players were now complaining about the trivial nature of many quests. I put that down to an XP buff, not a stat buff. People were outlevelling zones before they'd finished all the quests in them; and out of a desire to finish a quest-line once they'd started, they'd find themselves doing trivial grey quests, just to see the story to its end.  In other words, they're doing quests designed for, say, level 70 characters, but by the time they do them, they're level 72 or 73. But that isn't the case with Magtheridon. He was originally designed as a challenge for 25 level 70s, and can be defeated by eight of them now.

Yesterday, though, we tried Gruul's Lair, and had our asses handed to us.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Talking Trash

Keen wants to improve themepark MMO dungeons. Great idea. Just I'm not sure of his tactics to achieve this. He says that the all suffer from the same issues:
  • Repeating the same dungeon over and over
  • Too many trash pulls and not enough bosses
  • Encounter variety and mechanics are always the same
Let's take a look at the first of these issues, just to get it out of the way. Nobody needs to run the same instance over and over again. If you do it, don't blame the virtual world for your repetitive and obsessive behaviour. Look within yourself. Blizzard, in fact, have tried to stop this behaviour in a number of ways at various times: by locking you out of a dungeon once you've run it; or by stopping bosses dropping loot for you once you've looted them once in a particular period. But it shouldn't really be up to the world designers to keep you from your disorder. You need to fix it yourself. If you find yourself chain-running dungeons, perhaps it's time to look at what else you can do.

As for trash, I like trash mobs. They are not there just to provide you with loot and fights. In fact, they aren't even primarily there for that. They are there to provide a real world: to  set the atmosphere of the dungeon, and to provide a setting that makes the dungeon more credible. Take, for example, the instance Keen mentions, Utgarde Keep. And forget how the dungeon finder teleports you in, so that the instance seems to be suspended in space and time, rather than set in an actual keep in the Howling Fjord whose entrance you reached by battling through the Vrykul to the north of Valgarde. You fight your way into the keep. It is full of Vrykul. Of course it is. It's their keep. Should it just have a handful of Vrykul and three bosses? Keen's view seems to be that the sooner he can get through the trash and onto the loot piñata bosses, the better (and sadly, Blizzard seem to be siding with this kind of argument: on the Timeless Isle, you don't even have to kill bosses to get your loot. It showers on you from the heavens). I can't say I'd find such an instance interesting, even the first time through. The trash make the instance come alive, they make it credible. Utgarde Keep is a real keep populated by vrykul soldiers, blacksmiths, guards, and so on. Without them, it would be empty.

But credibility and atmosphere aren't the only benefits of trash mobs. They also provide a cadence and rhythm to instances. A warm up to the boss. A way of building up the tension for the boss fight, and a counterpoint to it. The trash mobs, of course, are easier than the boss fights, but the best trash also provide a challenge of a different nature: the trash in the Lost City of Tol'vir or in the Halls of Origination required teams to plan pulls, to communicate, to practice small pulls, to practice crowd control and to practice focussed fire - something that came as a shock to many adventurers after their previous practice of silently rounding up everything in sight and AoEing it down. It came as such a shock, in fact, that they whined to Blizzard for a nerf. But while those instances still required teamwork, they were great, precisely because of the trash.

Of course, Keen is quite right that 5 pulls that are all the same is dull. Trash needs variation, and the best trash does have it. Meeting the same trash over and over again isn't great design. I'm thinking here of the two bridges between Jin'rohk and Horridon. Perhaps one would have been sufficient! But the best trash adds variation and forces the instance team to respond in ways that boss fights don't. When encounter variety and mechanics are always the same, the fun goes out the window. Part of that is the fault of overgearing. Once we're overgeared for an instance, we can often reduce every trash pack to the aforementioned tactic of round up and AoE down. Part of this is also our fault. We whine when unfamiliar mechanics are introduced that take us out of our comfort zone, and Blizzard is ever ready to nerf whatever we QQ about.

Finally, Keen suggested:

One of the biggest changes I would love to see in Themepark dungeon design would be to add way more bosses.  I think a dungeon full of nothing but boss fights would be fantastic

I hate to say it, but it was tried and found wanting. The Trial of the Crusader was exactly this. Blizzard listened to players like Keen who said they hated trash and only wanted boss fights. So they designed a raid that was only boss fights. And nobody liked it. It felt thin and hollow, and actually boss-fight after boss-fight without end, proved to be as dull as trash after trash with no boss at the end of it. Adding way more bosses simply proved that the highs of a boss-fight need the pause of trash to make them feel epic. And the most innovative fight of the lot there, the faction champions, were the least liked (again, because they moved adventurers out of their tank-and-spank comfort zone). Another instance that was almost (but not quite) trash free was  Blackwing Descent. The boss fights in this instance were fun, but there was no sense of being in a real credible world. Without much trash to provide a context, there seemed to be no reason for any of the bosses to be there. Finally, the most memorable thing about that whole instance is the elevator that killed more adventurers than the trash did.

So where is trash used well?

Kharazan is probably the most memorable. The trash mobs bring the place alive. The same is true of the Lost City of Tol'Vir, where the trash also added great variety to the encounters.

And the worst?

The Throne of Thunder has just far too much trash. But the worst has to be the trash-free Trial of the Crusader.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Secret life of a Dungeon Boss

By the gods, I'm bored! I've read all the books in here a hundred times. I hope some adventurers come by, so I can have a little fun with them. The more overpowered they are, the stupider they become.

Nobody. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored! Can't stop thinking about my poor son, Medivh. Please, no more! My son .. he's gone mad. I hope that Khadgar guy looks after him. He always had his back.

Ah, here comes the curator.

"Hey, Curator. Seen any adventurers today?"

"Your request cannot be processed.The Menagerie is for guests only."

Man, he's dull. A golem, of course. The place is full of them. Hey, he wasn't talking to me! There are some guys out there! I can hear them crashing about, blundering from golem to golem. Excellent. Time for a bit of fun! I hope they manage to get as far as me.

"The curator is equipped for gallery protection. You are not a guest". He's funny, that curator! Popping poor adventurers because they touch the displays!

"Get 'em, curator, go for it. Use the flares!"

Silence. Did they all die or did he?

"These shoulders look cool!" Ah, now they're looting him. My turn! Let's see, I'll close the door, but I won't lock it. I'll stand over there, pretending to read a book. No, I'll walk slowly around pretending to be lost in deep thoughts. Yeah, that'll be good. Maybe they'll come rushing straight in hoping to take me by surprise. Ho ho, that'll be great fun! Ah, here they are now, fumbling at the door. Just two of them. I remember when they were scared to come here with less than ten. Here they come, opening the door, and rushing straight in, just as I had hoped! What idiots these guys are! Ow! That hurt! A quick bit of telekinesis now and the door behind them is locked. They're all mine!

"Who are you, what do you want from me?" They just want my loot, but let's string them along, see if we can get a little conversation going. Nothing. By the blood of Aegwynn, these guys are poor conversationalists. Wow, Aegwynn! She was a ride! And she could talk for Lordaeron! I miss her. Hot nights in Tirisfal, romantic evenings in front of the fire, snowy walks discussing the Titans. She knew everything about everything! Concentrate, concentrate, these guys are still hitting you. Let's see. These flame wreaths are always fun. Every time I use them, the idiots walk into them and get blown into the air! Then they fall and land on another flame wreath and up they go again! It was even better when there were ten of them, popping like jack-in-the-boxes!

"Burn, you hellish fiends!" Well, you gotta keep up the image. Let's try the arcane explosion now. that's always fun. Pull them in, then blow them back through the air till they hit the back wall. What a laugh!

"I am not some simple jester, I am Nielas Aran!"  I might even get a part in the movie, if I keep people talking about me. "I'll freeze you all!" That's a good one. After knocking them back, cast blizzard in the outer part of the room! Double whammy. A couple of water elementals now, and a pyroblast should put them in their place. Look at that idiot healer, running into range of my counterspell again, and then wondering why he can't heal! Stupid people. I doubt I'll get any interesting conversation out of them. Oh, I know! I'll turn them into frogs. What? Dammit! Out of mana. I've been having too much fun. Time to lie low, and drop some shinies to distract them. Let's see, they got some shoulderpads from the curator, maybe I'll drop some boots. Let's see: Boots of the Incorrupt. Drop boots, drop to the floor, play dead. Telekinetically open the door before they start looking about the place.

"Dude! Look at these boots! Phat lewt! Let's go!" Out they run. Up I get. That was fun! Till next time!