Tobold's Blog
Saturday, February 21, 2009
 
Complete scalability

Last Sunday a reader suggested making instances in World of Warcraft completely scaleable, so you could visit them alone or in a group of any size, and they would scale in challenge to meet the number of available players. City of Heroes works like that, so why not World of Warcraft?

I think the concept has two major problems: Trinity and loot tables. If you scale the difficulty of a dungeon based on the number of players entering, you still don't know much about the actual power of that group. In a group of 3 or more players, the power of the group goes up dramatically if there is a mix of tank, healer, and dps. Same number of players but missing one or two of these elements is much weaker. Thus the system would need to take that into account to work, and that would start to be really hard to calculate.

The loot tables problem is that if you give out the same loot for soloing than for doing a dungeon in a group, most players will just run it solo. Setting up a group is an additional effort, and that effort has been traditionally rewarded by WoW. The larger the number of players, the better the loot, up to the point where Naxx25 gives better loot than Naxx10, without always being harder.

Complete scalability will be hard to reach, but I would love to see a solo mode for all dungeons of level 1 to 70. I think soloing these would be preferable to the current practice of getting "boosted" through them by a high-level character.
Comments:
Adventure wings in DAOC:Catacombs worked like that too, any char could just run them solo. Was a big fail for me, people figured out quick enough that there wasnt really much point grouping up anymore and started running those solo, turned into the loneliest mmo experience I've been part of and it quickly got dull as there were no drops to speak of, only "shards" if different types that you traded in for gear. The gear was pretty good as well so it was almost forced to do that if you didnt want to be left behind.

I think the dungeon system in WOW is well balanced and most importantly, fun. Wouldnt want it tweaked too much with, my only gripe it became too easy as you've talked about too, fresh 80s start in heroics instead of grinding out required gear in normals.
 
I think that well designed henchmen could achieve much the same effect as scalability. Henchmen would be less useful than humans of course and you would still need humans for tricky raid encounters but henchmen should work just fine for the normal tank and spank dungeons. The cost of hiring henchmen (either in terms of gold or lost loot) could be adjusted to ensure that there is always an incentive to group with real players when possible.
 
Gear would obviously have to scale with the number of participants, and an instance/raid would still be based on it's main number. So Utgarde Keep, would be 5-man. With optional 1,2,3,4 man versions. The players would have to figure out themselves that 2 healers, doing 2 man would be a bad idea. But I've done earlier content, ON level with just one or two on level people. And when you outgear an instance, there are many times where we 3 or even 4 manned a level 80 non heroic.

There's nothing stopping a tank, healer, dps from doing Halls of Lightning. The tank needs the mitigation and the dps needs to be able to burn through the mobs quickly. Look at guilds 3 manning Heigan(sp?), in 27 minutes.

Did Stockades with a hunter, and me on a paladin. 2 manned it, we were below level. Pet and I tanked, hunter healed pet, and I healed myself. We had to pull in a mage for one the ogre boss as I didn't have enough mitigation to outlast him.
 
@mpb, doesn't EQ have a henchman system? I know plenty of warriors who'd buy a literal pocket healer.
 
I hate boosting or any form of power-leveling. WoW should consider adding a mentoring mechanic like they have in EQ2 - it would allow high levels to grp with low levels and let them pick up those missed achievements.
 
There's a few unique elements in CoX (Cities of Heroes/Villains) that tackle the Trinity and Loot issues Tobold rightly raises.
You can set your mission difficulty level in CoX which more or less works so that it raises the level of the foes, then ads more foes, then ads a level, than ads more foes then more levels. You can also adjust your mission difficulty to reflect you group's capabilities, then run it again (provided you didn't complete it).
Additionally, while the unHoly Trinity does exist in CoX it's less clear-cut than in more classic MMO's like WOW. Loot tables are based upon mission difficulty as well as mission rewards. Doing a mission at +5 difficulty (the highest) will get you rewards you can use the longest. Any Enhancements (CoX gear) has levels and are useable from 3 levels above your own until 2 below. Mobs typically drop Enhancements at their own level, so ideally you're fighting mobs of +3 or higher diff. Mob drops tend to provide the vast majority of your rewards whereas the mission succes provides the most XP.
Lastly, CoX has what's probably the best Mentoring system in place. You can have lower levelled players accompany higher ups (sidekicking) as well as higher characters join lowbies (mentoring down). The latter has an added benefit that you can get rid of debt (from faceplanting) faster while assisting some lower levels than you would working it of on your own.
It works for CoX because the game's whole approach is a lot different from WOW, EQ2 and other direct dikiMUD clones. Not saying CoX isn't highly derivative in its own right, but you ahve to admit that if you were to answer the question which is the odd one out in WOW - EQ2 - AoC - CoX, you'd have to pick the latter.

On a side note, Anarchy Online also has scalable Missions, where you can adjust a lot more of the mission's aspects than with just a single difficulty slider
 
The loot seems quite simple to adjust, simply have all loot drop, say 1/10 of it's 5 man rate for a solo run, 1/3 of its 5-man rate for 2 players, etc. (The numbers could change depending on the difficulty of finding people)

The Tank-nuke-heal issue does seem a tough one to work around though. Perhaps having DPS oriented gear drop far less than healing or tanking oriented gear would in solo runs, but less of a penalty with more group members would work o.k., although with the way stats overlap it would be hard to do.
 
This is something that I find really interesting about WoW. For all the great things it does, I always notice how conflicted it seems about what kind of game to be regarding soloing/grouping.

I think it's very jarring for new players to get to level cap and suddenly be required to group. For people who are making alts, as Tobold recently mentioned, the inverse is true: it's frustrating to go back to awkward soloing for a player/character that's geared toward endgame grouping.

I think the suggestion of NPC henchmen is a very good one, although as you say they'd really only be smart enough to be useful in the lower level instances. The other possible suggestion is solo endgame content which I think would be interesting as a training/gearing-up mechanism for newly-capped players.

I'm sure Blizzard could make some really brilliant class-specific instances that really played to the strengths of each class or role, but it'll never happen. The time it would take is considerable, but the real danger is how angry every other class and people who like grouping would get while they're waiting for their content to come out. As many people have noted, it already takes too long as it is.

Valve manages to pull off specific class updates for TF2 (http://www.teamfortress.com/scoutupdate/), but the main reason this works is because anyone can play any class at any time. It'd be met with some hostility in a class-based MMO.

Mike

http://mikedarga.blogspot.com
 
It's not just about LOOT. People play for FUN. And kicking the ass of a boss with my 2 other friends in a dungeon scaled to the difficulty for 3-man party gives me the fun. Loot is not the main desire of everyone playing WOW. Yes, think you and many others will start flaming me for being a noob. Maybe no one plays WOW for fun anymore. Sad. WOW is a great game. Unfortunately, the rewards for playing is no longer fun. It's loot.
 
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