Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Ulduar - The Trivial Pursuit raid dungeon

As witnessed in the Tribunal of Ages event in Halls of Stone, Ulduar is home of something that can only be described as an ancient computer, built by the titans, and storing all the knowledge of the world. Based on that lore, Blizzard just announced a huge surprise: The raid dungeon Ulduar to be introduced in patch 3.1 will be have elements of the Trivial Pursuit board game. Blizzard bought the rights to use the full catalogue of nearly 1 million different questions from Hasbro. The Ulduar raid dungeon will have six wings (Geography (blue), Entertainment (pink), History (yellow), Arts & Literature (brown), Science & Nature (green), and Sports & Leisure (orange)), with 3 bosses each. The bosses have none of the usual special abilities, and are tank & spank, but at 75%, 50, and 25% of health, every raid member gets a window popping up with a Trivial Pursuit question, and three possible answers. Every player in the raid will have to click on the right answer to his question inside of 5 seconds, or he'll explode, die, and deal a serious amount of damage to the players around him. You can heal through one player getting it wrong, but not several. The first boss of each wing has the easiest questions, and the last boss the hardest. The timer is designed short enough that googling the answer would take too long, and as every player gets a different question, and there are so many of them, knowing the answer beforehand from some strategy site will be impossible.

Blizzard commented that for years players had demanded that raids be more skill-based, and the new system would obviously favor the most skilled and knowledgeable players. Also the 25-man version would automatically be more difficult, as frequently requested, because of the higher likelyhood of somebody getting a question wrong and hurting his fellow raid members in the explosion. The explosion mechanism prevents less skilled players to leech of more skilled players. So Blizzard feels that this is exactly what raiders have been asking for.

Relax, of course I'm joking. But like all of my jokes, there are serious game design questions behind the preposterous proposal. Because while Blizzard is extremely unlikely to design raid boss encounters on Trivial Pursuit questions, the interesting thing is that it would be totally possible. Lots of people would hate it and protest loudly, but others would start the race to be the first to beat Trivial Pursuit Ulduar, and some people would even like it more than the regular raids. The serious question is what extra skill exactly are raids demanding, and would there be other possibilities?

The question arose from the quote from Melmoth I linked to in the previous post, where he compared raiding to playing Super Mario Brothers. He was commenting particularly on the Sartharion encounter, where you need to look whether the flame waves come from the left side or the right side, and position yourself accordingly. But he could have said something similar about the Heigan encounter in Naxxramas, or other similar encounters where it becomes important where you stand. But fact is that in World of Warcraft you can level to 80 and get a good enough set of gear to start raiding without ever having worried about where to stand. Positioning becoming important is exclusive to raid bosses, and a few level 80 dungeon bosses. And as Melmoth so correctly said, this additional required "skill" for raiding successfully is something many people picked up by playing other video games, especially platformers.

The reason so many people would complain if Blizzard really introduced Trivial Pursuit Ulduar is that this raid dungeon would require a completely *different* set of skills. Somebody who is good at staying out of the fire in a current raid encounter would not necessarily be good at answering Trivial Pursuit questions correctly in 5 seconds. But other players who have problems with the video game skills required by some of the current raid bosses could possibly do much better when general knowledge were the required skill to kill a boss.

So, if quick positioning isn't part of the pre-raid game of World of Warcraft, why is it a part of raid encounters? And apart from that and Trivial Pursuit, what other "skills" could we design a raid encounter to require?
April 1?
I think Trivial Pursuit Ulduar should be your submission for a raid boss idea. A very intelligent joke based on the lore of Ulduar!
The short answer: Blizzard has not laid the foundation needed for players to accept a trivial pursuit raid encounter, but they HAVE laid the foundation for a quick positioning-based raid encounter.

We need new mechanics in raid dungeons to challenge players. However, human beings tend to accept new things if they can be linked with previously-learned concepts. There are many non-lethal void zones and other such "quick thinking" skill testers in BC and WOTLK 5-mans, as well as solo content (timed bombing runs, the Sons of Hodir quest where you kill the dragon...) This shows solo/5-man players that certain content in the game involve quick positioning and efficienct rotations. However, a smart company doesn't punish its players so harshly for solo content, as the learning curve must be gradual to encourage solo players to try the other kinds of playstyles the game has to offer. Hence many of these mechanics can be ignored or worked around, especially at lower levels.

The problem with introducing a trivial pursuit mechanic is the bait-and-switch. It isn't just a permutation of previously-introduced mechanics (the quick positioning fights DO exist pre-raid, and Blizzard assumed that you will have at least been exposed to some percentage of them before raiding) -- it's something that runs totally counter to player expectations. If we had more of the Ogrila Simon-says quests, and Price-is-right style 5 mans, then you would have a good argument, because the groundwork would be there for a challenging raid encounter based on a previously-established style.

As it stands now, any skills you want to introduce to raid encounters must be tied to some mechanic in-game for players to accept them. Positioning is, but academic knowledge isn't.
One of the dailies in Blades Edge Mountain had a sequential colour memory match feel to it that had everyone just writing them down in order to do it... I found that peculiar to have in an MMO.

With your jokey example above, I would change it so the raiders would have to present a list in sequence of who gets asked first (but not necessarily the subject) and if the question is answered wrong, the boss heals itself to the next stage up (i.e. 25% up to 50%).

Alternatively, I would also have "Phone A Friend", "Ask The Audience" and "50/50" for some strategic decision-making. ;)

Really though, it wouldn't work because raids just don't have any variables other than the players. Once a raid is defeated and the strategy is posted on the internet, all you're really doing is following those instructions and perhaps gearing up a bit more to compensate for the 'slackers'. If raids consisted of entirely random tactics (drawn from a vast pool) by the bosses, it wouldn't matter how much you read on the internet; your raid would have to think fast on its feet or lose.
I'm still waiting for the bejewelled or tetris based raid instance!

Actually what I'd love to see is more of a platformer. Like a Prince of Persia MMO. It wouldn't work in WoW but a game where the abilities are built around jumping and acrobatics could be fun, and I would love an arabian nights style fantasy.
I actually would've loved that Trivial Pursuit dungeon! Especially if they included mostly WoW Lore.
Quick positioning IS part of the game before raiding. Several low level dungeon mobs and even outside world mobs (For example the flame archers in Netherstorm, and the trolls south of Zim Torga) have "void zone" attack type, so they set the ground on fire (or poison for the mentioned trolls) and if you stand in it, you are damaged.

Yet the outer world damage is so low (just like their melee) that it's safe to stand in the fire and kill them. Low level dungeons are usually ran under the term "Can som nice ferindy peeps boost me", so their lvl 40 fire is ignored by the lvl 70 or 80 booster.

If the void zone attack would be big enough to be noticed and high level players would be locked out from low level instances people would learn to position.

Oops. Wrong. If outside world mobs would have ANY serious ability and boosting would be impossible, most people would never reach lvl 80, and you would find out some reason to prove that it's not because they belong to S&M LTD.
Low level dungeons are usually ran under the term "Can som nice ferindy peeps boost me", so their lvl 40 fire is ignored by the lvl 70 or 80 booster.

This, of course, raises an interesting point. Why can a level 80 run a level 40 dungeon as level 80? If a Henchman-type levelling system was brought in so that high levels could play as a lower level for the dungeon (i.e. their character assumes an average gear and stats template), would high level people use this and stop "boosting" new players through?
Locking higher-level layers out of low-level instances would make me *extremely* unhappy. Beating the hell out of Arugal or Van Cleef is one of my favorite ways to pass the time in WoW.
I dont want my raid encounters to be all cute and touchy feely like Mario. I'm playing WoW because of the supportive and in depth lore that Warcraft brings to the table. I want Blizzard to continue to support that lore with encounters that tests a groups skill, gear and resolve. Regardless of the gimmicks used in future encounters, it would still be no time before raid leaders are giving out strategies, read from some website, over vent in the hopes of one shotting the boss for the phat loots.

On way to fix this issue is for Blizzard to design dynamic raid encounters, where the entire group is saved to the instance upon zoning in, instead of after killing the first boss. Design encounters around quests that are in the raid instance itself, where the supporting quest lore establishes which boss(s) you'll be going up against, along with providing hints as to the bosses strengths or weaknesses to prepare the group for the encounters as they progress thru the encounter. It doesnt have to be uber difficult, just something that would serve to bolster the feeling of achievement that players get as they work together to solve an unknown encounter without strategy guides or the such spoon feeding them like toddlers. The quests could be done in such a manner as to be supported by phasing where the same dungeon design is reused ad infinitum for different questlines and encounters. Bring back the uncertainty and scare the living crap out of players as unknown patrols wander around a corner.

The current cookie cutter approach to WoW's raid instance design, along with strategy guides and the like is what is damaging WoW's raiding reputation, not the ease of the encounters. I'm sick of seeing "how many here have not done this fight?" in raid chat, immediately followed by instructions how to do the fight. Someone please tell me with a straight face that this type of raiding is fun..??
I see the Ulduar Wikipedia Add On download number before my eyes ...
I think the big problem with WoW is that it encourages soloing so much that people don't have any incentive to group and learn basic skills. Stuff your talking about - like positioning - can be learnt just by grouping. For instance, I would always expect DPS to attack from behind the target whilst in a group, a habit I have from other MMOs.

Apart from the lack of group exp incentive, WoW needs to address its Talents issue. Everyone solos, everyone goes DPS specs with their Talents... meaning it's even harder to group. Hopefully the dual spec system will help with this. For me at least I can't wait to be able to run both Protection and Fury specs with my Warrior - one for grouping, one for soloing. At the moment I'm forced to chose and that's not right.
Why on earth would WoW dps attack from behind a target when grouping while leveling? (keep in mind that no one plays rogues, DK's don't need help leveling, and warriors and paladins will be the tank in almost any leveling group).
@ Jezebeau
People still play rogues! We're all subtlety spec, so you never see us.
Remember the shortcut Jump in Wailing Caverns? - WoW needs more jumpskilltests!
Tobold you forgot to mention the technology Blizzard are licensing from Nintendo to make raiding a healthier, more family friendly interactive gaming experience. They hope that WOW FIT will finally allow raiding to break out of the pee in the bucket hard core niche.
Teron Gorefiend in Black Temple was an encounter that required players to basically learn a new video game. The only problem was, you only had a few seconds to succeed or fail.
Whether or not you got to play 'Stop the Constructs' was entirely random; it was quite possible to do this encounter numerous times and not have a go at it, but sooner or later your turn would come. people who had played a lot of different video games were much happier than those with very limited experience.
I'd be interested to see a Raid designed around requiring the group of 10 or 25 to split into self-sustaining groups, and attempt to achieve multiple goals simultaneously. Imagine a raid based on a massive keep siege. You need a group to create a distraction at the main gates, another to disable the security systems, and yet another (or two, or three) to man and protect siege weaponry to take out primary defense batteries. Raids currently have the groups moving as a single pitchfork-wielding mob. Perhaps Blizzard should take a page out of Squaresoft's playbook and pattern a dungeon after the last zone of Final Fantasy III (VI for you purists), where you had to switch between 3 parties in order to get to the end. One group would have to stand on a trigger plate to clear the way for the other groups, and vice versa, until you reached the end and each group had to defeat a boss, before facing Kefka in the final battle.

Provide a means of activating teleport points at various stages of the dungeon so that players can complete it in increments, and you'd have a very different experience than players are used to, while still building on the familiar 5-man composition everyone cuts their teeth on.
I think that a mentor system like EQ2 has would be great. An easy way you could stop higher level people from running lower level though dungons is to set a group range, where if they are more the X levels above the current person the lower level will not gain XP. You could also add a XP bonus when mentoring to encourage people to do it.
Man, you got me. I was really excited. Maybe you should consider moving into game design. :-)
Damn you, Tobold! You *almost* had me willing to start raiding! /shakefist ;-)
I dont agree that good positioning is not a part of 5 man instances pre-naxx. They may not have the exactly mechanic, but the kind of mechanic needed to raid is everywhere. By design. As many players already noticed in beta. And that's an awesome thing.

And if you want a an obvious counter example to make your argument fall apart: heroic Loken is your man. Unless you already overgear the instance by a lot, you *have* to move back and forth, and you have very little reaction time to decide if you're going to move, or stay still (and wipe your 5 man).

Oh what about the aces high! daily. That even has a practice mode???? Long before you ever knew you had to master that very same dragon mechanic in the hardest boss in game. Or occulus? 3D fights on dragons. Kind of tricky in a 5 man, lots of groups wipe on it quite a bit at first. But wait! awesome practice for a 3D fight on dragons in a raid instance. Hmmm, I wonder if they did that by design??? Hmmmm

I could keep going and going to demonstrate exactly links that were designed to prepare new raiders for raiding. Also someones view that they have good enough gear to start raiding could be very biased. I pretty much guarantee if you just hit 80, and you go 25 man raiding with 24 other people who just hit 80 that morning, you will wipe & wipe and wipe in your raid. Sure if you go in with people who have much better gear than you it may "appear" that you're ready for raiding. But you're just being carried through.
Same idea, Tobold, with different questions..

You are in a 5-man PUG. The boss you just downed drops a blue item that would be a nice upgrade for another player. Do you:
a) Pass on the item, congratulating the other player on the drop.
b) Need on the item, claiming your "need" is to DE it for mats to level Enchanting.
c) Greed on the item, and then throw a tantrum when the player for whom it would be an upgrade needs on it, and drop group in the middle of the instance muttering something about ninjas.

You are killing mobs in an area for a quest. Another player comes along with the same quest and offers to group to complete the quest quicker.
Do you:
a) Accept the invite, and stay until the other player has completed their quest also.
b) Accept the invite, and drop group without a word as soon as you've killed your 10 foozles.
c) Decline the invite, and try to tag as many mobs as you can to keep the other player from getting any kills.
> But fact is that in World of Warcraft you can level to 80 and get a good enough set of gear to start raiding without ever having worried about where to stand. Positioning becoming important is exclusive to raid bosses, and a few level 80 dungeon bosses.

You *can* level to 80 without worrying about positioning. You can also do level to 80 without ever grouping or doing an instance. Neither prepares you for raiding.

Positioning is important in many instances, not just "a few level 80 dungeon bosses." Remember the switches and bombs at Mekgineer Thermaplugg, the final boss of Gnomeregan? I personally learned to redo my keybindings after a number of wipes on Murmur in Shadow Lab. I'm sure someone could come up with a comprehensive list of positioning-important dungeon fights that cover all levels from 20-80. And PvP is clearly all about positioning.

Why is positioning so important? Because WoW, like most video games since Space Invaders, involves a few basic elements:
1) where to stand (positioning)
2) who to target
3) what weapon to use
4) when to fire/attack

That's why there are Flash simulators of boss fights, and why Blizzard can do a good April Fool's parody of Molten Core.

All that being said, I think it would be great to add more positioning mechanics to the 1-80 solo leveling game. Something along the lines of offering more experience and better rewards for succeeding in tests of skill. I'm thinking the L60 hunter epic bow quest, and the L70 Blade's Edge Shartuul event. But the tradeoff is that developer resources would have to be pulled off the endgame to provide this. Right now Blizzard seems to be content by speeding up the leveling game, so that people get to 80 sooner.

The new siege vehicle mechanics are a neat addition to the skills required in WoW. They introduce the concept of shots taking time to reach their target, and a number of solo quests in Northrend make use of them. I hope to see more of them in instances and raid dungeons.
wtb dynamic dungeons.
Pointing to Loken in Halls of Lightning doesn't contradict Tobold's point because that's still a hard level 80 dungeon. It's pretty late to start having folks practice positioning by then.

I think it *is* strange that they didn't put in some positioning-based quests during 71-80 leveling. They have all sorts of interesting quests as it is and it would have been nice to have a few with obvious "avoid the stuff on the ground" elements.

I'd suspect that the quest designers and raid designers don't talk but Aces High! disproves this as it is a perfect simulator for phase 3 of the Malygos fight.

What they really need is quests with NPCs that tank for you or heal for you to provide a small taste of group behavior while leveling up.
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