Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Ixobelle's raid encounter design challenge

Ixobelle is challenging us to design a fun raid encounter, claiming that complaining about such an encounter is a lot easier than designing a better one. True that, but *why* is fun so hard to design? Because most people think a particular encounter is fun when they are able to beat it, but it isn't a pushover. And it is very hard to predict for who that will be true.

The big problem is that a character being at the level cap doesn't tell you enough about him. If I take a pickup raid of freshly minted level 80 characters in green / blue gear with no experience of working together, and compare that to some uber guild raid group in full heroic epics, voice chat, and countless hours of practice, the difference is enormous. The top end raid group can easily withstand multiple times the damage, and simultaneously dish out multiple times the damage per second, than the pickup raid group. Even inside one guild there can be huge differences. Friday I was on a guild raid which easily killed Sartharion, and cleared the plague and military wings of Naxxramas, except for the 4 horsemen. Sunday I was on a guild raid with the same guild, but with several raid members new to Naxxramas, and we barely managed to clear the spider wing, which is supposedly the easiest one. But in some respects the less successful raid was more fun, as we really had to work on our strategies.

With gear, experience, and communication making such a big difference, it is nearly impossible to design a raid encounter which is challenging, and thus fun, for everyone. When we recently visited Molten Core with around 20 people of level 80, the place was such a pushover that there was no fun to be had beyond nostalgia. An encounter like Baron Geddon is fun only if YOU'RE THE BOMB actually matters; if you can explode in the middle of the raid and nobody notices, the boss ability is just a waste. Ixobelle talks about the Gruul encounter, but that again was fun only if your raid was in a certain range of damage dealing and damage absorption capacity. If you were so badly equipped that you'd lose even if you played perfectly, or if you were so well equipped that you'd win even if you played badly, then there was no fun. At level 80 all of the classis WoW and TBC raid dungeons are too easy to be fun, but if they wanted Blizzard could simply increase the health and damage output of the trash and bosses in all of these places, upgrade the loot table, and have fun raid dungeons again. Maybe some encounters (Razorgore in BWL for example) would be hard to tune for 10-man raids, but other than that there is no reason why a recycled Molten Core couldn't work exactly as well as the recycled Naxxramas does.

So my entry for Ixobelle's raid encounter design challenge is easy: Just tune Molten Core to be a viable 10-man or 25-man raid dungeon. Which means roughly multiplying each mob's health by a factor of 10 (Lucifron now has 350,000 health, a typical 10-man raid boss in Naxxramas has around 10 times that), increasing the damage output accordingly, and filling the loot table with level 80 epics and emblems of heroism / valor. Or maybe another classic WoW dungeon, there are still a lot of people who have at least seen parts of Molten Core, but never been to places like BWL or AQ40, which is exactly why Blizzard recycled Naxxramas. I think most of the raid bosses Blizzard ever designed have the potential to be fun, they just weren't always tuned to a good difficulty level.
Do you have to take into account all of the new skills (and classes) available now with these old bosses?
"But in some respects the less successful raid was more fun, as we really had to work on our strategies."

Now can you see why TBC raid guilds feel burned by WotLK?
Now can you see why TBC raid guilds feel burned by WotLK?

I never denied that. I'm just claiming that the correct solution is to add harder dungeons after Naxxramas, not to tune the very first raid dungeon so hard that it is fun for the 5% elite and impossibly frustrating for the 95% rest of us.
Good idea, but cut out about 75% of the trash!!!
Want different Raids? Then stop thinking in terms of "bosses".

A Raid could be completed in various other ways, allowing you to get the shinies when all is finished. ie. hordes of angry denizens, crossing pits of obstacles like fire or lava, using specific buffs or talents or (omg!) crafting certain items on the way to unlock specific things, etc.

Heck, there doesn't even need to be combat! I would love to see an instance that all the uber-types couldn't do because their cooking skill wasn't high enough, lol. But it could still be challenging if designed with group effort, planning, and teamwork in mind.
I agree, "fun" for me is about the difficulty level being hard enough that I dont one-shot every boss, but not so hard that I hit a brick wall and cant progress past the first couple of bosses

For me, getting one new boss kill a week is about what I'd be happy with (perhaps easier for the first few bosses, but harder for the end bosses)

However, if guilds like mine found an instance to be the correct level of difficulty, then the top end guilds would complete the whole thing in a week, and other guilds would never get off the ground

Its tough to design difficulty for 11 million players !!

For me, Naxx is too easy (fun at the moment as its still "new" we've only cleared it 3 times as we had a break over christmas) but I know my old guild is finding it much harder, they (afaik) have killed 5 bosses total...
So...perhaps if I'd been in my old guild, I'd have found the difficulty level just right...
And thats for the same person, same player, just surrounded by different people....

For me fun is more about the difficulty level than the actual design
Or you could just see how few people you can do the oldschool raids with. There's a DK in my guild who tries to solo as much as he can of the old raids during offdays. Isn't this called "emergent gameplay"? Also it goes to show that you don't need to be in a group to get challenges. Solo-killing that bad guy can feel just as epic as zerging him down with 40 people, but for other reasons. Wasn't the Fellowship of the Ring in LOTR just made up of 9 people, less than today's smallest raids? It still is an epic story.

But of course, designing encounters for just 1 player will be one helluva headache, because it will be easymode for some classes and impossible for others unless they spend ages thinking of everything. I like the current way they're doing it. Make an easy version for the "slackers", "noobs" or whatever and add a hard mode on top for those who want a challenge. Single player games have come with several difficulty levels since before I was born, why can't we have the same in MMOs?
or have the dungeons once complete unlock random mode where any boss could spawn anywhere and the trash isn't predictable. Add a better loot table to make it worth while and boom no more predictable step here, hold your breath for 3 seconds etc.
Add a dungeon master screen...problem solved.

Everything being so transparent and consistent is the problem.
Since the old dungeons/raids are achivements, you would have to somehow separate the tuned up raids from the old one. Perhaps have a quest open up to people who have finished the old raid. Basically attuning you to the level 80 version with 10 and 25 man versions.
Some of your assumptions are not true. The top end guilds beat the content in greens & blues because they're very skilled players - not just because they're play 100x more than anyone else and have already farmed the content to death. If you outgear an instance... where's the achievement? No, they deserve the achievement because they outskill the rest of us.

Also fun is very very very subjective, which I think is an obvious point. So discussing "fun" encounters in wow could potentially net you 11million differing responses. Good luck getting to a consensus.
"or if you were so well equipped that you'd lose even if you played badly"

I'm guessing this is a typo.
"I never denied that. I'm just claiming that the correct solution is to add harder dungeons after Naxxramas, not to tune the very first raid dungeon so hard that it is fun for the 5% elite and impossibly frustrating for the 95% rest of us."

Yes, and Kara in TBC 2.0 was far too difficult. However, do you really think the next raid Blizzard adds will be anything close to the challenge of BT or BWL? They might surprise me, but my bet is whatever raid is added next (and when is that set to be added anyway?) it will be cleared by top guilds in the first 1-2 days. I just don't see how they can start at the low level WotLK set, and then ramp it up to the old level in 1-2 instances. Not to mention we are talking Blizzard here, so 1-2 instances is basically a year of waiting.
It would be far easier for Blizzard to design raid encounters if they would try to narrow the field of player skill a bit. It isn't so hard to educate your players so the bottom half doesn't play so bad anymore. Especially the first instance of an addon is a perfect place for that, because every player who enters the raidgame in this addon will pass through Naxx to gear up, be it now or in one year.
Most bosses aren't hard because there is one mechanic that is so difficult that you can't beat it. Todays bosses consist of many different mechanics introduced in the past and most groups who fail continously at a specific boss do so because they (or some of them) didn't learn all the underlying mechanics. One DD eats a cleave and dies, another stands in the fire, causing the healers to pump mana into him, the offtank taunts several seconds too late, some ranged dds lose casttime because they eat a tailswipe and then you wipe because your dds didn't do enough damage to kill the boss before the healers went oom (which is also caused by the guy in the fire).

So if Blizzard payed a bit more attention to what they want to teach everyone with a specific boss, many people would play much better. One thing that annoys me particulary is that someone doesn't move out of the fire and you have to heal him. I as a healer have additional work because he doesn something wrong and he doesn't learn anything from it! How should he, his fault isn't effecting him in any means, he simply continues to play, possibly not even noticing what happened. If someone isn't out of the fire in 3 seconds let him be instant dead for heavens sake. And make the damage a percentage (and I mean 100%!) of his healthpool so better equipment doesn't help him being stupid. And if you don't want to be mean and kill him, give him a stacking -20% damage debuff or something like that. I noticed most DDs performance improves drastically if they have to prevent something from hurting their high position on the damage meters.
I think that MH/BT were tuned fairly well, granted guilds that sailed through the first 4 bosses of MH with relative ease were met with a very challenging Archimonde (who required a much different level of execution than his predecessors). I would agree that Karazhan and Gruul v.1 were not tuned well for entry level content and were too difficult for about 95% of your core raiders, and 100% of your core casual players. (I'm sorry, throwing yourself repeatedly at a giant rock for hours on end day after day is NOT fun).

As such, SSC and TK v.1 were also tuned a little bit too difficultly in my opinion, and the trash was just ridiculous. It was really sad that more people had killed the first few bosses in MH/BT once the attunement was removed than ever killed Vashj and Kael. Both encounters were well done, I thought, but required near flawless execution on everyone's part to complete with success pre-nerf. That being said, you had a real sense of accomplishment when you finally downed them. I throughly enjoyed both the Illidan and Archimonde fights. I thought they were well tuned, required a good balance of execution, and took a decent amount of time to master.

Then enter the Sunwell. What an absolutely horrible place. I don't care who you are, having to be flawless 100% of the time is not fun. I loathed and hated that zone with a passion. One person LD, one person died, one person who wasn't buffed to the max, one person who was on their A- game instead of their A+ game causing a failure of the zone is not fun. Because we are humans, mistakes are going to be's inevitable. Making a zone that didn't allow for mistakes EVER was not fun. Was it a challenge...sure, but in all honesty I found the zone extremely stressful, and not fun in the least.

So that brings me to Tobold's thought of recycling more of the old content. While it may be fun for those who hadn't seen some of those zones before, for those that spent time in them while they were current raid content would probably not find the same joy in that. Will I ever return to I would quit WoW before raiding that zone again if it were re-introduced as "new" content. I feel only mildly less passionately about AQ40. Do I want to spend months throwing myself at C'thun again. Wiping because of that one idiot that gets too close to the door and eye beams us all and then run back for 15 minutes to do it all over again. No thank you.

The only reaosn Blizzard was able to do this with Naxxramas, in my opinion, was because of how FEW people actually got to see the zone in vanilla WoW. This was only repeat content for probably less than 5% of the current player base. Would I want to run MC again...god no, I was tired of farming that place waiting for BWL to open! Would I want to run BWL again, same answer...I had my fill of it waiting for the AQ 40 gates to open (I had two toons fully decked out in T2 before the AQ arrived!).

I understand that maybe I'm a part of the minority in this, and that not everyone had the same experiences that I had, or didn't pick up the game until these zones were old content. But I think that it is important to keep WoW fresh. Recycling content too frequently will just leave people bored and seeking something less boring to fill their time =)

Where do I think Ulduar is going to fit in with regards to difficulty? I expect to see it somewhere around SSC/TK level, with Ice Crown being about BT level. I am happy that Blizzard is now making the "sunwell difficulty" challenge of the content optional. For those that thrive on that, it's available, but for the rest of us mere mortals, we can still progress and enjoy the content without having to be constantly perfect.
"So my entry for Ixobelle's raid encounter design challenge is easy: Just tune Molten Core to be a viable 10-man or 25-man raid dungeon. Which means roughly multiplying each mob's health by a factor of 10 (Lucifron now has 350,000 health, a typical 10-man raid boss in Naxxramas has around 10 times that), increasing the damage output accordingly, and filling the loot table with level 80 epics and emblems of heroism / valor."

That's... weaksauce!

Sure a design to make something FUN could be better than add hit points, add damage, add loot??!?!?!
syncaine, I think the point we need to understand here is that the top guilds will beat ALL the raids put out in 1-2 days unless they're are stupidly high tuned. Because THAT is what TOP guilds do. If you're going to tune a raid to the level of difficulty to make the top guilds feel challenged, you're going to alienate 98% of the playerbase.
The reason Naxx worked well tuned up is because it was an excellently designed instance in the first place that most people hadn't beaten. MC almost everyone has been through the entirety of and it was the first raid ever and HORRIBLY designed. Tons of trash, a tank and spank boss with a single gimimick. The CONCEPT of MC isn't bad (Tread into the domain of the elemental lord of fire and vanquish him once and for all by defeating his armies) but the execution was and is hideously terrible.

The only way I would ever step into a Molten Core again is if it were redesgined from the bottom up, with maybe the same bosses ofr half of the same bosses that took their core "concept" but had a completely different implementation.
Mordiceius, when I say top guilds, I mean server top, not world top. I know EJ/Curse will always beat the content at a high clip (only Nax slowed all those guilds down), but I think the stuff is set too low when server firsts become a day one event. It's a balance for sure, but my overall point with WotLK is that the balance seems TOO low, and too many guilds are already on farm. That's not good, because farm content without anything higher leads to burnout and players quitting very quickly.
Oh and as for redisgn, it's fairly easy. Take Lucifron.

Lucifron, 9 million HP

Lucifron has 2 phases that he will move between during the fight. He starts in Phase 1 and switches to Phase 2 when he loses 1 million HP. He then switches back to Phase 1 when he has lost another million.

Phase 1 Abilities:

Guards - Luciron starts with 4 Flamewalker Protectors and every time he returns to Phase 1 he summons 4 more. They don't hit very hard and 1 tank can tank 2 of them. A very well geared tank could tank all 4. The only special abilities they have is a cleave. They each have 400k HP and should be killed sometime before Luci reaches phase 1 again or you may have too many at once.

Impending Doom - Lucifron will cast this magic ability on 3 random members of the raid. It does 2000 damage every second to the character who has it. You can dispel this ability, but Lucifron immediately recasts it on another random person. It is wise to only dispel it if it is on the main tank or a Flamewalker tank to get it on someone else. When lucifron changes phases, this ability runs out in about 5 seconds. Reapplied every phase 1 to new random people

Shadow Shock - Hits everyone within 20 yards of him for 4000 shadow damage. Only really hits the melee and the tank, and he doesn't it cast it very often, maybe once every 10 seconds. You can more or less ignore it, but make sure to keep melee healed.

Melee Hit - Normal attack. Not hard and not soft, standard boss fair.

Phase 2:

Dominate Mind - This is the main ability of the phase. Lucifron becomes untargetable in this Phase and mind controls one random member of the raid. That member grows to the size of Lucifron and begins to attack the raid. They have 1 million HP and their HP is linked to Lucifrons, so attacking them hurts Luci. The abilities they use are based on their class, not their actual character, so they don't blow their own cooldowns like other mind controls and they sometimes use abilities they do not know personally (Mages cast Arcane Blast and Dragon's Breath regardless of spec). When you burn down their full 1 million HP, they shrink to normal size, are returned control of their character, and are left with 1 HP, and a mana/energy/rage/RP level where it was before the mind control. It is vital you heal them quickly as Lucifron is returning to phase 1 and they may be the target of Impending Doom.

Lucifron's Curse - Every 10 seconds while Lucifron is in Phase 2 he will cast this curse on the entire raid. It lasts for 5 seconds and doubles the rage, energy, mana, and RP cost of all abilities. You can either ignore it or remove it from the healers when it is up.

When Lucifron is at 1 million HP (And switches back to Phase 1) he soft enrages. All 4 guards are summoned like normal, and he becomes targetable again, but he mind controls a new random person and keeps casting his curse. The guards should be offtanked and ignored, and you can either burn down Luci or the person he mind controls to finish the fight, since their HP is still linked.

Abilities that mind controled raid members/mobs have:
Mage: No aggro table. Casts Frost Nova, Dragon's Breath, and Arcane Blast. Just wail away as the mage has almost no armor and melee can easily kill.
Warlock: No aggro table. Casts 1 random warlock curse on every member of the raid. Summons 5 demons (They go down easily, and don't hit too hard). Then spams shadowbolts. The curses have the same general effect as the equivilent warlock curse, but are more effective.
Priest: No agro table. Casts Holy Nova to heal and damage, a dispelable renew on itself, and mind flays.
Rogue: Can Vanish. Comes out of Vanish on a random raid member with a sap that lasts 15 seconds. Uses SS to build up a "Combo Point" buff on itself then, once it is stacked to 5, uses rupture on the current target.
Druid: Summons a treant for every live member of the raid (Hit for an ok amount that you have to be careful of but die very easily), casts an undispelable rejuvination on self that slowly restores HP, and then shifts into a Bear. Takes long thanks to mitigation and a slow self healing, but doesn't do much damage after the trees are dead.
Shaman: Lays some totems that need to be killed, occasionally casts chain lightning, and otherwise just beats on the tank.
Hunter: Summons a cat that hits hard enough it needs to be offtanked, will cast volley that needs to be moved out of, and will occasionally disengage from the tank to jump back and erase threat.
Paladin: Uses divine storm to do 360 degree AoE damage, has an interruptable 3 second holy light that heals for a ton, and bubbles once at low HP to delay the fight.
Warrior: Will occasionally execute for a buttload of physical damage, will charge people randomly throughout before returning to the tank, and will use spell reflect every so often
Death Knight: Has a permanent death and decay at his feet that deals constant annoying but not deadly damage, his hits cause diseases that do a fair amount of damage, and will occasionally death grip people not in melee into melee and hit them once.

10 man: Less Hp and damage all around, and only 1 person gets impending doom. Only starts with and summons 2 guards instead of 4.
caleb, I actually really like that! This is exactly what i was asking for... either create something new, or just tweak an existing encounter to make it more fun (or more in line with level 80 toons tackling an old encounter).

I'm gonna cry myself to sleep tonight knowing that a bunch of you posted comments here, but didn't even read my VampireWolf Encounter. I'm actually really proud of it. It evolved after comments on my own story, I may need to type up "the final version" for those too lazy to sort through the comments.
Molten Core was a basic design, that taught basic raid concepts (cure debuffs, line of sight and range are important, positioning is important, pay attention and don't blow people up, etc.). Raid encounters have changed since then, but the basic skills are still the same... just that now you have to exercise more of them as you go.

I've written up my own raid encounter design as part of the challenge, you can read it here if you like:

Left a comment Ixobelle.
Also, the one thing that needs to be kept in mind is that when designing an encounter, you want to make things complicated (so it isn't boring) but not TOO complicated. Remember that one of the annoying things in TBC was having to explain Netherspite to people who had never done it before. Make it too complicated and you always risk the raid losing because some people simply can't keep everything in their head. Yeah, doesn't bother hardcore guilds, but it DESTROYS casual raiding guilds that, say, have the lovable healer who ALWAYS dies to frogger in Naxx. But just the right amount of complicated results in tons of fun and a memorable encounter (Kil'Jaeden)

The other thing to take into account is that there are different kinds of complicatedness. Sometimes the amount of things needed to be done is large, but the amount any one person has to know is a lot smaller. Take the High King Maulgar fight. All DPS need to know is what order to kill them in and to interrupt the healer if they have interrupts. Healers need to know to heal their tank. Tanks generally need to know just who they are tanking and where to tank them. There are two specialty tanks and a warlock that need to know a little more, but basically any single person has very little they need to care about. The fight as a whole, is INCREDIBLY complicated however. The right kind of complicated perhaps. Compare that to some other bosses where everyone needs to know exactly what is going on at all times through multiple phases and multiple threats. That can often feel overwhelming, and can be a hassle when you otherwise have the content on farm. Perhaps fun to conquer, but when you outgear the place and can still fail it, it is annoying.
10-25 people doing a square dance with two-three different "phases" is fun? ;) Unfortunately, this sums up WoW's basic stone old raid system.
@caleb: Love your redesign. Ixobelle should take lessons from you: his raid design didn't mention boss HP, let alone trash HP, didn't make it clear if it was a 10-man or something else, and as far as I could see didn't even state whether it was intended for level 80. In places he's not even sure of the mechanics himself (such as on Green Dragon). No programmer could make use of it to create a working dungeon. Maybe he didn't get a callback because it's not a design at all, just a concept.
I figure that's what he enjoys, creating fun encounters, but that wasn't the job he applied for.
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