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Making encounters fun

May 15, 2010
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Coming up with a decent idea for an encounter must be quite complicated, quite aside from working out all the numbers and making sure the mechanics don’t glitch. You’ve got to give a twist to things that hasn’t been seen before. You’ve got to try and make fights that mean every role has to keep on their toes.

A fight is like a cake (bare with me) in that you need to have a balanced amount of materials go into it. You wouldn’t want to make a cake with no flour, because it wouldn’t be the same product at the end and everyone would point and say ‘That cake/encounter is missing flour/things for the melee to avoid. How foolish!’ And no-one wants that.

Maybe that analogy didn’t work. Moving on.

You need to consider several things in a fight:

  • The encounter needs to make killing the boss harder than slapping a training dummy in some way, by challenging the players.
  • Fights often end up orientated more towards one role, it tends to be unavoidable. (As in, Festergut is a Healer/Tank fight, Valithria is a Healer fight, Marrowgar is a Tank fight, Saurfang is a DPS and avoiding-the-mobs fight.)
  • The encounter needs to be designed so that the vast array of tools players have access to can’t cheat it somehow (Not strictly a player ability, but think the Saronite Bombs Scandal on the Lich King fight.)

Blizzard have a fairly standard formula for making encounters difficult for each Role. For Tanks, it’s taunting back and forth like a game of table tennis. Be it that the mob is going to enrage, the tank will blow up or simply that the tank can’t take any more damage, swapping the boss between the MT and OT is a time honoured formula. For melee dps, often used tools are Cleaves and Tail-swipes to dodge, sudden times when you need to run away and swap to a different target, and really local awareness. For ranged dps, Blizzard provide 256 different colours of void-zones to run out of, spell reflections, and items that need to be hit from a distance (like Frost Orbs on Anub’arak). For the healers, they’re plagued with things designed to stretch their Mana, from burst damage on the tanks to pulse damage to the raid, to sudden unexpected interrupts or silences. These are the things I can outline looking back at my raiding experiences. Some things that everyone often needs to be aware of: Running away from exploding items, damaging stuff on the floor, and Boss enrage timers.

Now those are all the fairly standard problems Blizz like to select from their sack of encounter mechanics. Often their will be a unique one or two to the fight, like Marrowgar’s Bone-spikes, Gruul’s shatter, and Vashj’s pass-the-orb. That’s what keeps things interesting. As nice as it would be to have every fight be a Patchwerk tank-n-spank, watching the DPS meters sky-rocketing, it would get dull very fast. Bosses like that are good as a gearcheck. You can’t down Patchwerk? Then you’re gonna struggle from here pal! I expect to see something similar in the early days of Cataclysm.

Rescue Valithria Dreamwalker is the most fun encounter in ICC10, from my perspective. I get to co-ordinate with my other healers (both of which have an excellent sense of timing) and hop in and out of a floaty dreamworld. In that world I get to fly around popping bubbles, and then return to the real world and put out some stupidly high healing numbers. It’s great. Now that’s just me. It’s almost certainly not the favourite of the DPS and Tanks, who complain about Blazing Skeletons spawning, lots of small adds butchering their DPS, and difficult to pick up mobs. Even Mana problems because of the intense amount of AoE needed (apparently.)

It does get complicated though. Valithria hasn’t gotten duller for me than it was when we first tried it, and we’ve now done it about 5-6 times. I’ve done Gunship Battle a lot more. That fight is now tediously dull for me. I get to watch as people take very little damage, and bounce back and forth between boats and in and out of cannons. The healing needed was so negligible that I was able to go and sit up on the higher deck (top right) on our 25 man run, only hopping down when the Tank’s incurred the wrath of Saurfang senior. The first time we tried that fight, I loved it. It felt epic, I needed to do stuff, it was all crazy. Repetition has ground that fight into boredom zones for me, I’m sorry to say. In the same way as the start of Ulduar and Malygos phase 3 before it, implementing Vehicle mechanics and large epic playing fields that seem to confuse your average Joe raider tends to ruin repeat visits. It was fun the first time, marginal the second, and by the 15th run you just want to disable the fight, loot your badges and move on. How could they have avoided this?

In the case of Gunship, making the cannons scale with the ICC buff would be a godsend. Letting them be buffed at all would do. In some way speeding up the time spent blam blam blamming at the goblins at the back of the enemy ship that comes between every player intervention on the frost mage would do that fight a lot of good. Even better would for Muradin to announce: ‘Ok lads, we’ve sabotaged their fuel tanks before setting out today, so it’s plain sailing from here.’ 10 seconds of leisurely swaying and we’re at Saurfang, 2 badges and more than likely 2 abyss crystals better off.

I haven’t played other MMOs. I don’t know how they handle their bosses. I did play in Vanilla and TBC, which felt like two different games to me. They have occasionally reused concepts (Yogg-saron, the endboss of Ulduar was basically a redux of C’thun from 40 man Ahn Qiraj) which I don’t have an issue with. I wouldn’t mind some more fights that are totally outside the box, like Valithria. Maybe we’re not killing something within a time, we’re using player abilities to hide from things, or build things. As much as I hate the need to bring a particular class and spec, some sort of Ice environment that needed to be melted with fire/nature damage would be cool. Properly implimented, the sky’s the limit for what they could do. I look forward to seeing Blizzard’s ideas in the future, and playing through some fun encounters I wont mind coming back to week after week.

-Zal

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