Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Blessing of Kings: Was BWL boring?

Rohan from Blessing of Kings has a very interesting question on his blog, which relates to my previous post: Was Blackwing Lair boring? He was watching a raid video of Blackwing Lair and noticed that it seems a lot less dynamic, with people moving a lot less than in current raids. Thus as a "spectator sport", old school raiding certainly was more boring than modern raiding.

But I was in Blackwing Lair, even got up to the end boss Nefarian, and it wasn't boring at all. And the difference lies in what I described in my previous post as the difference between learning to play your class, and learning to react to specific encounter events. If you read old strategy discussion on Blackwing Lair you will encounter concepts that are foreign to modern raiding: mana efficiency, downranking spells, healing rotations. The very idea that you would have to set up a healing rotation, in which one healer is healing, while the other is standing still to regenerate mana during the fight, is completely unknown to somebody who only knows today's raids.

This is actually one reason why I don't raid regularly any more. I'm in the somewhat curious situation that I find raiding both "too easy" AND "too stressful". Overall it is certainly challenging, but the challenge often lies not in playing your class well, but in reacting quickly to various events. There are no choices to make, no decisions to take. You get a message (which you can make more obvious with addons like Deadly Boss Mods) that event X is happening, and you need to press button Y inside of Z seconds to counter that effect. "Boss casts buff on himself. Dispel!". "Boss casts fire spot on you. Move away!". "Boss makes everybody deal damage to his neighbors. Stand at a distance to everyone!"

In Blackwing Lair I wasn't running around so much. There were a lot less scripted events for which I knew that when they happened I had to push a specific button fast enough. In Blackwing Lair I was actually still busy playing my healer. I had to watch health bars and make a decision of whether to cast a fast heal which wasted a lot of mana, or a more mana efficient slow heal. If I would make the wrong decision, either somebody died because I casted too slow heals, or we wiped because the healers had cast too many fast heals and ran out of mana before the boss was down. Or as my favorite Sid Meier quote says: "A game is a series of interesting decisions.": Having to decide what spell to cast and that decision making a difference is interesting and thus fun. Having to move out of the fire is *not* an interesting decision, only your reflexes are tested. I find "we wiped because I moved half a second late" frustrating (especially if that half second was caused by lag). I find "we wiped because I made the wrong decision which spell to cast" much more motivating to go back and try again. Only decision making is a process which is hard to capture on video, while moving out of the fire is more visibly dynamic.
Agreed. It's like a modified chess where the board is shaken slightly every few seconds, some parts of the board become unpassable, some reaction time testing is done every few minutes etc..

Core gameplay of chess is fun enough. To add artificial difficulties (that are mostly not immersive at all!), ruins the core gameplay.

Core gameplay in classic WoW was fun - otherwise fewer players had played it. Adding some extra scripted stuff was nice, but Blizzard focused on doing only that. That is a mistake in my opinion.

In addition to that they made core gameplay easier and also less interesting - at least for healers.

Ice Mage vs. Ragnaros is .. well ... it was a little bit stupid :)

I'd also like Blizzard to focus on the core gameplay again and not on the best scripted enounter with totally non-credible bosses.
However making decisions need brain while moving out of the fire does not. I believe a chimp could be taught to play WoW. A couple hundred line bot certainly could.

The "old raiding" was closer to chess. The "current raiding" is closer to HL-CS.

There are more CS funs than chess players. So Blizzard made a rational choice.
It's certainly less tactical. On the other hand, if BWL happened again, you'd now have perfect tactics / raid setups / rotation a few days later on EJ / Bosskillers.
I partially disagree on that, gev. at last for ICC or heroic ToC. Take for exemple festergut's spores or rotface oozes, act fast, but use your brain, else it's a wipe :)

Accorded, it's not high level thinking, like you could totally build your gear and your spec / rotation around some encounters in MC/BWL. It was more intellectually challenging, ofc, but brain supply fall short of the demand, in our modern times, imo :D
Currently, Ghostcrawler is explaining a lot how Cataclysm gameplay (in particular healing) will move more towards "interesting (and meaningful) decision making" and a generally slower pace as opposed to "missed GCD = tank death". I guess we'll wait and see.
You're also comparing your experiences of Vanilla raiding with an established guild to sporadic pugging with strangers.

I'd love for you to rejoin a hardcore guild because I think it will help you understand how challenging raiding can be. Your preference to mana decision challenges as opposed to situational awareness challenges is not currently catered for, but is due to return in Cataclysm.

Hard modes are hard and FULL of interesting decisions. What comp should we use? Raid positioning? What DPS/HPS assignments? Can we swap a healer for a DPS to beat the enrage, or will we lose a tank from the reduced HPS? What would be the impact on HPS/DPS by switching some gear to frost resist for Sindragosa?

Finally, you're the only person I know who found being inactive fun (=healer rotation). My guild's healers enjoy big pulls during HCs just to make it interesting... :)
You're also comparing your experiences of Vanilla raiding with an established guild to sporadic pugging with strangers.

No. I am comparing my experience in BWL with my experience of raiding ToC with my guild yesterday. I pug heroics, not high-level raid dungeons. Just take the first triple encounter in ToC and count how many times your DBM addon tells you to move this, or dispel that. Big difference to BWL.

Finally, you're the only person I know who found being inactive fun (=healer rotation). My guild's healers enjoy big pulls during HCs just to make it interesting... :)

Exactly my point: Class abilities now have been boosted so much that they are utterly boring, and healers are happy about bad pulls because it gives them something to do. My greater heal crits in ToC yesterday healed for over 18k, which means a single heal to bring a caster from near-death to full, and a maximum of 3 for the world's best equipped tank. Not to mention uber AoE healing abilities like Circle of Healing or the healing hymn. Everything being so overpowered means not having to care any more what you are casting, you just spam. And mana is never a problem. A healing rotation was challenging not because I enjoy being inactive, but as a tool of mana management. And forcing yourself to *not* heal when somebody's health bar drops, because you know that if you heal now the raid will wipe in a minute, can be pretty exciting too.
This is also why I don't care for current raids. They feel more like quick time events on a console game... press X in 5 seconds!
"Hard modes are hard and FULL of interesting decisions. What comp should we use? Raid positioning? What DPS/HPS assignments?[..]"

Those are raid leader decisions, nothing a normal healer has to think about. And you also don't think about that stuff while raiding, you do that beforehand and then simply execute and watch the effects. I'd love to see real decisions come back, but I see a problem. It would be good content for healers and tanks, but there never were many decisions for DDs. In general classic content seemed to be very boring for DDs. One of our mages back then used to play the guitar and sing on TS while raiding and many of our best DDs couldn't bear the drugery anymore and switched to tank or healer. Since then rotations have become more interesting, but I still have a hard time to think up meaningful decisions a DD could make in combat.
...for a second my mind drifted and I thought you were talking about why 5mans are so boring now.

Hey, as long as Cat has lots of cool cutscenes, who needs interesting dungeons?
My recollection of healing in BWL is very much different from Tobold's. I found it generally very boring, especially the drake fights and Chromagog. I also do not remeber mana management being that big an issue in there. The key mechanic there was tanks managing to keep and rotate threat and if that was handled correctly you could heal the tanks without runnign out of mana. Raiding healing on Ragnaros was a much more involved mana management fight.
I think healing WAS vastly more interesting in BWL because mana was a big issue, there was a huge healing team to coordinate, and we had the option to downrank spells to save mana as we got better gear.

Plus the various fights where removing debuffs from the raid was important, or careful line of sight positioning.

I know it was always our raid group's favourite, long after we mostly outgeared it. There was a nice pace of bosses too, and Razorgore and Vael were just very interesting encounters at the time.

People also had to be careful about threat, and AE tanking wasn't as faceroll as it is now (remember phase 1 on nefarian?)
Oh dear me. This is one post that I totally think you're wrong on, Tobold. Not merely disagree with you, but I think you're dead wrong.

First thing, you're comparing ToC now to BWL in its prime. That is a flawed comparison to make simply because ToC now is obsolete content (on normal mode). Raiding it is simply going through the motions because most people have 245 through 264 ilvl gear, therefore totally overgearing a place designed for ilvl 219. If you want to compare it to BWL, then do that with the version of BWL that was raided 6-8 months after it came out, when everyone was in AQ40 and Naxx gear - it was a pushover, and as boring as ToC is today. The only reason people went was for the elementium ore, heh.

Second, who used healing rotations in BWL? It wasn't a valid concept back then, either. Matter of fact, healing rotations were never a good idea in WoW, not even back in MC. Name me one BWL fight where you had luxury of bringing twice the number of healers, so you could have half resting and half healing. Vael, Broodlord, dragons, Nef? All of those required quite a bit of furious and sustained healing. Bringing X dps and X healers was always better than bringing 2X healers.

Third, downranking was nice because it allowed mana efficiency, but let's be honest, it wasn't rocket surgery. Use Greater Heal rank 4 if the target is only missing a small chunk of hp, use Greater Heal rank 10 if the target is a tank or is missing a large chunk of hp. And you usually went through with the former. It was an extra choice to make, but exactly the height of strategic insight.

Fourth, healing IS challenging on the appropriate tier of content. While mana is not THE restricting factor any more, as it was in vanilla (although it still plays a part), your assumption that there are no decisions and no choices to make is ridiculously false. Knowing which target to select and knowing which spell to use makes a lot of difference. Is a hot enough? Is blowing your AoE cooldown worth it? Should I go for the small fast heal or for the larger slower heal? Should I target the tank who is dropping fast or the dps who is almost dead? Which one of them is more likely to be healed by other healers? Is whoever is supposed to heal the tank incapacitated so that I need to take over for him? etc. etc.

I'm sorry, but claiming that the only challenge left to a healer is to move out of the fire is absolute nonsense. That might be true when you're powering through obsolete content with superior gear, but it is not the valid state of affairs for current content. Tobold, please go and do the upper half of ICC, then come again and post your impressions.

Sorry for assuming that your current raid experiences are with pugs.

"I am comparing my experience in BWL with my experience of raiding ToC with my guild yesterday."

You have to admit that this is comparing apples with oranges. Ayr is 100% on the money - go and try out ICC and see if it provides the variety and challenge you're looking for.

I honestly believe it will, being pitched at just the right difficulty and including some of the most fun encounters Blizzard has ever designed.

You will have to dodge the fire occasionally, but you would have missed out on a lot of the visual flair if the encounters could be beaten without looking up from your health bars :)
I actually remember BWL quite well, I was actually raiding on a semi-hardcore basis (3 days a week of 3 hours or more!)

BWL was anything but boring. I think a bigger problem may have been that content was released slower in vanilla (less "tiers" compared to today's fast content release pace). Guilds regularly farmed MC and BWL and farming leads to boredom, and lest not forget a pre-emblem world as well, gear didn't rain from the sky, and there were few side-grades let alone offspec gear sets.

I remember my first Nefarion encounter, I couldn't help but think to myself "Really? This is the way this fight works? Is this a joke?"

Not because it was easy, but because how bizarre it was. Nefarion had a "class call" in which something weird happened to each class when their call came around. Such as, Hunters range weapons break for 10 seconds, or, all mages are sheeped and run around as rabbits or Giraffes. It was really bizarre.

But to say it was boring is far from it. The first boss required a complex execution of a figure 8 pattern in which as many as 6 tanks ran around picking up mobs and jumping off ledges to garner a greater distance from said mobs to catch up.

BWL did have its more boring bosses, as well as a lot of trash to go through. Not to mention ready checking 40 people (pre ready check function) was a lot more difficult, and slow paced.

Tobold brought up some great examples of old school raiding which are sorely missed. Anyone remember healers "wanding for mana" "hey pally, get your judgement up, we need to wand during phase 2!" Wow now is an inflated numbers game. With the huge health and mana pools, enrage timers and giant fire pits or ashtrays are the only things keeping any guild from any content, not how they play their class so much.
Don't have much to say other than that this is a great observation and well said. I raided in both Vanilla & in Northrend - and I found that although in Vanilla I had so much more time where I felt like I was just sitting and waiting, it was hugely important for me to know my class and how it would help or hurt the team. I had to focus, not be twitchy. I do like the smaller sizes now - and I do like a few of the scenarios that bosses put you in, but I don't think it can trump the fact that I chose to be a "mage/hunter/warrior/healer".
I liked the Archimonde fight because it was short-term (fire coming to kill me, use item to float to the ground) and long term (If I run this way, will I get boxed in? Do I have time to cast this fast, inefficient heal/dps?). I think there is room for both types of strategies, although there is too much Super Mario for my taste as well.
I think this post just speaks towards the generation gap that exists among WoW players. Current raiding involves a lot more knowledge, attention and skill (yes, using the mouse to move is a skill) than old-tier raiding. During my time in MC, the down-time between pulls and bosses was excruciating, and _Patchwerk_ was the second biggest progression-block in the game; which is almost totally a gear grind check.
"I liked the Archimonde fight because it was short-term (fire coming to kill me, use item to float to the ground) and long term (If I run this way, will I get boxed in? Do I have time to cast this fast, inefficient heal/dps?)."

See also:

-Firefighter (Mimiron HM)
-Professor Putricide (ph.3)
BWL was a mixed bag.

It was a huge step up from MC and offered some great new ideas. You had the first boss fight which was more about killing tons of adds. The second one was a pure DPS race and I remember being unable to pass him weeks after we killed Nefarion. The third boss introduced the gauntlet which has been regularly reused in newer instances. And of course the Nefarion fight itself was a lot of fun.

On the other side there were a few generic bosses. I remember three dragon bosses which were all pretty much the same for us, DPS.

It might not be great compared to modern instances but when it came out it was a huge step forwards.
Blackwing Lair was Blizzard's biggest disaster in the raiding realm. Not only was it really buggy, it was also the raid dungeon where Blizzard decided to introduce threat management as a raid obstacle -- in fact managing threat (the untauntable boss would literally take a chunk out of the tank's existing threat) was the biggest obstacle in several fights.

Unfortunately, they did this without providing an in-game threat meter, and in a WoW 1.0 world where many DPS classes had no way to drop threat.

Even worse were the numskulls who insisted that managing threat was a question of "learning to play your class", disregarding that you cannot manage your dps with respect to threat if you are ignorant of your threat!

People on the official forums often say that this or that change would make them quit WoW. BWL actually made me quit WoW for a while. Fortunately by the time I came back the "extreme threat management" mechanic was never to be used again.
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