Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 06, 2009
Enrage timer

About half a year ago there was a story about a boss fight in Final Fantasy XI which lasted 18 hours, and ended because some players got physically ill. Obviously not good game design. A boss fight has to end after a reasonable time. In World of Warcraft it used to be that the boss fight ended when either the boss was dead, or when the healers of the raid ran out of mana, at which point the raid wiped. Then Blizzard basically removed mana from the game, by giving everyone enough of it and too fast regeneration. And given that raids now could keep up fighting forever, that would have meant the boss always losing. To prevent that, Blizzard is often using a terrible crutch: The enrage timer. After X minutes the boss suddenly deals ten times more damage and within seconds kills the whole raid. I find that isn't good game design either.

I'm not saying that bosses shouldn't have any ability to prevent the fight from going on forever. Because otherwise you get stories like that of the 2 player killing Loatheb alone on heroic. They just had one warrior tank and one paladin healer, and as the healer never ran out of mana, and had enough healing power to keep the tank alive forever, they just had to whittle down Loatheb's health. Even if that took a very long.

But enrage timers are not a good solution to that problem, because they are too abrupt. Boss is down to under 10% with the whole raid alive and in perfect flow, and a few seconds later the boss is still up and the raid wiped, with nothing anyone could do about it. Well, of course they could have done something about it by dealing more damage per second in the time before the enrage timer struck. But still the end of the fight feels artificial and forced.

I much prefer a solution where the boss gets gradually stronger. So the longer the fight goes on, the harder it gets, and sooner or later the damage from the boss becomes too much to heal. But that should happen gradually, and not at a fixed point in time. Boss fights shouldn' be boxing matches where the boss ends up getting saved by the bell.
I think the race against time is actually a lot of fun. Yesterday we wiped at heroic Thaddius, he enraged at about 4% hp. We got him the next try, making sure all DPS was buffed and working harder.
Healing the fight isn't very exciting though (unless people move too slow on the polarity shift). Like you said, mana isn't an issue, so just spam heal the raid until the boss goes down.
So I guess right now it's not the healers running out of mana that wipes the raid, but it's DPS not being strong enough that wipes the raid. I think your solution may result in a combination of those two, which would be great.
So then you feel a fight like Gruul is optimal then?

I think the problem is just with mana regeneration. No one should never run out of mana. Regenerative powers (Replenishment, mana spring, evocation, shadow-fiend, potions.. so on ect) Should help to combat a drain of mana which should be constant. The more of said abilities you have, the slower your mana goes down. But it should always be going down. Not only does this prevent fights from never ending, it allows more gear diversity (Do I want my spells to hit for more each, or be able to cast more of them) But it also causes people to consider various spells for various rolls instead of just spamming flash heal over and over because they'll never run out of mana and it casts quickly.
The problem I find with this is that as the fight goes on you lose resources. So you are making the fight more difficult as it is naturally becoming more difficult. It would also lead to a lot of frustrating low % wipes, and worse yet, getting the boss to a low percent loses it's value as an indicator of how well you are doing. You may get the boss to 2% every time, but because he is even harder then, you are low on resources, and he is getting harder every second, that last 2% may be more difficult than the first 98%!
I didn't like the enrage timers either but soft enrage such as Lady Vashj are ok. In Lady Vashj, even when the bats start poisoning the whole platform you can still get those last 5% if you have the skill and some luck. With hard enrage timer you have no chance.

And if I was a boss, I wouldn't wait 10 minutes to go all super-sayan on the raids, erm, butt... :)
I like the idea of bosses getting tougher the longer the fight lasts. Having a few too many people die would really wreck your chances of a kill.

Would have the side effect however that it's harder to kill a boss by new guilds (low dps - long fight) and piss easy by a guild who has done it ten times (big dps - short fight).
That's what Vaelastrasz was all about, and that's why that encounter is still considered by many players as the most thrilling they ever played in World of Warcraft. He would set your raid on fire and you had to kill him before the whole raid burnt. That was brilliant design.
Disagree with Tobold 100%. Enrage timers are a great mechanic - they provide a dps check, a bit of skill check (everyone usually needs to stay up to beat the timer), and feedback thru the fight of how well you're doing (We're x seconds off the timer guys, dps harder!).
Heigan is another example of a boss that you can fight forever. First time our guild tried him: me (Shaman healer) and tank were the only two who made it through the first dance, and we proceeded to dance with him for another 20 minutes until the tank's screen glitched and he died in the lava. In theory, we could have kept fighting him forever as Heigan does very little damage if you stay out of the lava. I was excited to see how many times I could pop heroism in one fight.
Off on a slight tangent, here's a good commentary on the Pandemonium Warden fight by a FFXI GM.

" After 18 hours, you'd assume someone would have said "You know, guys... Maybe we're doing this wrong." "
Soft Enrage punishes starter raids way more and completely trivializes the boss if you have him on farm.

Wouldn't it be better if the boss get stronger as you grow stronger? Wasn't that your idea a few days ago?
In The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two: Mines of Moria™, trolls often have a "momentum" buff. It builds up speed and damage as more of them stack. A troll on a roll takes a great toll.
So you like the "soft enrage" timer, then. Like Lady Vashj's sporebats eventually turning the entire platform into green sludge, or Grobbulus injecting more and more people so that eventually the room is filled with gas, or even Gorefiend selecting enough of your raid for death that the raid cannot keep the tank up any longer.

I tend to like those encounters, too. However, the occasional "gear check" or "DPS check" fight has its merits too, like Patchwerk allowing your raid to check how its damage, tank gearing, and healing is doing.
great game design advice. I like Zubon's comment as well ;)
I agree with the abrupt change with enrage feels artificial.

In the good old days, Space Invaders had no enrage. Ships got faster and faster until your reflexes and ability met their limit.

Gruul was like this also, his growths would make him more and more powerful, and your raid generally became less and less powerful because you'd lose some people to shatters/caveins.

Fights need to have some reasonable time limit on them, and I definitely prefer analog difficulty increase over the digital modes of normal vs. enraged. A single fight like Patchwerk at each tier is welcome as a benchmark to measure week-on-week changes, but that should be exception rather than rule for boss fights.
One thing to remember... back when running out of mana was a problem, if you went out of mana because a fight was lasting too long it was usually regarded as YOUR fault. With an enrage timer (or some sort of "soft" enrage), you can more easily distinguish between lacking heals and lacking DPS. Although I think if Blizz had implemented "soft" enrages in place of all the timed enrages, we'd probably complain about those too... that even THEY felt too gimmicky. :P
As a healer, I'm a big fan of enrage timers. They make the DPS accountable, rather than putting all the responsibility on the healers. I remember healing Gruul to 20 growths once, and still not getting him down.

To be honest, all raid fights are kind of "gimmicky". They're a puzzle, and the puzzle has a timer. I mean, does it really make sense for Thaddius to polarize half the raid, or the Four Horseman to run to the corners and start passing out marks?
If they aren't over used I think giving some bosses enrage timers is kind of cool. Like Xash though, it seems silly that mana is never an issue. This is a major and limiting flaw in the game if you never have to worry about mana. I hope Blizzard take a hard look at this and makes some adjsutments...all though it could be a majore change at this point.
"Off on a slight tangent, here's a good commentary on the Pandemonium Warden fight by a FFXI GM."

He's not a real GM, just a guy pretending to be one.

'After 18 hours, you'd assume someone would have said "You know, guys... Maybe we're doing this wrong."'

I'm in the guild that fought that boss and there was nothing "wrong" with the way we fought it. There were an odd 20 different forms culminating in the final form. No one had gotten past the 6th or so form before we attempted, so none of us had a clue when it would end. It. Just. Kept. Going. Anyway, guess what? The number of forms was reduced to about half, the HP on all the bosses and its minions were also drastically lowered, and people finally killed it. Square Enix is just asinine enough to design a fight that ridiculous.
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