Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Variable raid boss challenge

Did you ever have that conversation where you ask somebody about his raid progress, and he answers “not bad, we got that boss down to X%”? That is a more positive way of saying that they wiped all evening on that raid boss. In World of Warcraft and most other games which have raids, the challenge of each raid boss is binary: Either you are able to kill him, or you wipe. Wiping has become such a standard part of raiding that people actually complained when Blizzard tried to limit how often a raid could wipe per week in Icecrown. And I have to wonder why that is so, and whether we could have a more variable system of raid boss challenge.

Now the same raid boss already exists in different difficulty levels, as 10- or 25-man raid, as normal or heroic. That isn’t quite optimal, as whether you have 9 or 24 friends isn’t all that strongly correlated with your raiding skill, and heroic mode you’d have to choose in advance. So let’s have a look at that “we got the boss down to X%” phrase: It tells us that while the game only knows binary yes or no, the players are looking for a way to measure progress on a sliding scale. Couldn’t the game provide that? And what exactly happened when the boss was at X% and the raid wiped? In some cases the end of the raid combat is given by an enrage timer: If you haven’t beaten the boss after 10 minutes, he suddenly becomes super-powerful and wipes the raid. Time is part of the challenge, and killing a boss faster is obviously better. So why not make that part of the raid boss challenge design?

A very simple way to redesign raid bosses as a more variable challenge would be to remove the enrage timers, and instead have a timer which determines how much loot the raid gets from a boss. There would still be the possibility to wipe without killing the boss, but now not every kill is equal. If it takes your raid forever to bring that boss down, you’d only get a single epic, and only 1 emblem per player. And then there are two or three steps on the timer (preferably well indicated on the UI), where if you kill the boss inside this many minutes, you’ll get more rewards in the form of more epics and emblems, with possibly an achievement and title for the fastest step.

Such a design would help both the casual and the hardcore: The casual would get further into the raid dungeon, killing more bosses, but getting only minimal rewards for each. The hardcore wouldn’t be completely bored about having to kill the early bosses of a raid dungeon every week, but would have an additional challenge to try and do better. Another advantage would be that putting an emphasis on time as success criterion would somewhat increase the responsibility of the damage dealing classes, while in a binary kill or wipe system it is usually the healers or tanks that carry the most responsibility (or at least the blame if things go wrong). And best of all, the raid would not have to choose the challenge level before the fight starts, but would see how good they were at the end of the fight.

So what do you think? Should a raid boss give out better rewards if killed faster?
So essentially hodir for every boss?

Meh, it's still the same fight. I don't know that additional timing and additional reward for bringing skilled dps is really a better solution. Week to week it's still just boring.

I'd rather have a Sarth-like mechanic, but have the boss gain a random ability instead of a known ability. That way you can ramp up the difficulty without it getting stale each week. and you don't have strategy guides telling you exactly which drake to leave up first because it's the easiest.

But I think I am just a bigger fan or randomizing boss fights then anything else. I have become so sick of marrowgar. Even hard modes. It isn't a different fight, and I know how to avoid fire like a pro. Even if a timer existed, and extra loot was given out, it would still bore me to tears. If he started to poison nova instead of a whirlwind though... or he made the ceiling fall on me at 20%... and I had no idea which he was going to do? That would make things interesting every week.
@julian: While I would love a bit more randomness, most players prefer predictability. Just adding more rewards for faster kills keeps the predictability while still making the challenge variable.
Quite possibly the first like-able idea I've heard from you in a long time.
Each individual boss is not variable. But a well-designed raid instance itself is variable.

You can measure increasing competence as a guild moves through the instance, defeating more and more fights. As well, you get more loot the farther into the instance you go each week.

A guild that is 8/12 in ICC has not mastered the next bar, and is behind a guild that 11/12.

You already have the measuring stick of difficulty and appropriate reward in the raid itself, I'm not sure what bringing that down to the individual boss level really accomplishes, other than adding complexity for complexity's sake.
One issue you have is that if a guild downs a boss more slowly than they are going for, the boss is dead and they can't try again until next week.

I think there are a few other systems you could try.

1. The raid leader selects when the raid timer is, more loot for quicker timer.
2. More selectable difficulties aside from hardcore mode.
3. The boss automatically gets easier (with less loot) each time the raid wipes.
4. A "survival" encounter that can't be "passed." It starts off fairly easy and gradually gets harder and harder until the raid is wiped (think L4D survival mode). Rewards are given for how long the raid lasts.
A guild that is 8/12 in ICC has not mastered the next bar, and is behind a guild that 11/12.

I find that not satisfactory insofar as there might be different reasons why some guild gets stuck at boss number X/12. Maybe that boss requires a lot of ranged dps and the guild has mostly melee dps, or some other reason. It is not as if boss N+1 is automatically harder than boss N, so a boss that has problems with one boss might well kill the boss after that easily.
y'know, one of the Mirkwood Hard Mode instances in LOTRO (only a 3 person instance, not a 10 or 25) does precisely this: yr loot depends on the number of NPCs you save from the final boss fight.

Not entirely surprisingly, of the 3 Mirkwood 3-person Hard Modes (HMs are instances you run for radiance - ie raiding - armour), this is far and away the *least* popular.

Players far, far prefer to run the trivially challenging Sword Halls 3-person time and time again (even though the rewards from a good run of Dungeons - the variable loot instance - are much better) because the rewards are reliable, predictable, and much more easily achieved.
Few normal mode bosses have hard enrage timers of the type you're describing, at least timers that are of any relevance to a group that has any hope of surviving the encounter.

Blizzard has already addressed the issue of variable difficulty as a function of encounter length in many ICC fights.

Take Saurfang for instance. He has a "soft" enrage that turns on the "Mark of the Fallen Champion" mechanic as well as a "Frenzy" buff he gains when he hits 30% health. The longer the fight drags on, the more Blood Power Saurfang gains and the more marks he casts on players. The marks do constant damage to the afflicted players, increasing pressure on the healers who will also have to focus more on the tanks when Saurfang frenzies. The DPS therefore has the responsibility to shorten the duration the fight as much as possible, lest the marks accumulate and make the fight impossible after a certain point.

The game doesn't recognize anything finer than a binary outcome but it does present a spectrum of challenges. Overcome the challenge of playing your class well in the encounter, and the encounter mechanics themselves are less of an issue. Fail at the former and you will find the latter more problematic.
I think you already know the answer to this ;)

Too many would cry the "unfair" route.

They work hard for it, they should get what everyone else gets. They did beat it.

I'm starting to think players want to have their cake and eat it too. Well, on that note - who wouldn't. I know I'd love it.

But, I digress. I think player-input driven design can have a vastly negative effect in the area of change and/or innovation. I really see it as an unfortunate thing. To me, the whole "unfair" thing that's thrown around in RMT discussions seems to be carried too far sometimes.

Then again, I could be way off-base. As for now it seems likely that I'm right.
I think your idea is .. weird.

You would basically make raid quality independent from healer/tank quality.

Only dps would have an influence and not only that, but you would encourage dps even more than today to chose cookie-cutter speccs that focus on dmg and dmg alone.

Blizzard would never do this; and rightly so.
Instead of extra loot, good performance could be rewarded with raid-specific "quality of life" bonuses.

Save the NPCs, and you'll get an extra vendor/repair guy in the middle of the instance. Take too much time to kill the boss, and he'll collapse the corridor to the next part of the instance, forcing you to take another path through a gauntlet full of quickly respawning lootless oozes. Achieve a victory with less than 15% of the raid dead, and you'll activate the teleporter. Et cetera.
>You would basically make raid quality independent from healer/tank quality.

Except not, since inviting DPS who push the limit would also push into tank threat zone, meaning you would need a higher tps tank.

You would also want more dps along. 2 tanks, 3 healers, 5 dps? Nah; 6 dps, 2 healers for more loot. This would require more skill from your healers, therefore these fights would require more than just good dps; you could do it with on-par dps and above-average healers.

>you would encourage dps even more than today to chose cookie-cutter speccs that focus on dmg and dmg alone.

Specs which spend points in damage will ALWAYS be better than specs that don't, there is no way to entirely negate this except to remove all +dmg talents. The only thing viable in today's WoW would be to close the gap: a pure dps specced mage might only deal 110% of the dps that a utility-spec mage does.
One idea for a variable scale would be to provide a measure of how close the raid came to killing the boss. I appreciate it would be a bit blunt, but that level of relative performance could easily be expressed as, say, a percentage.

Under this system, the raid that failed to kill the boss wouldn't get any loot at all, but this game mechanic would give the raid some important feedback instead, such as a very direct feeling that this try was better than the last one, or even the best one ever – that the raid is getting closer to finally downing this boss. The sense of achievement when the raid finally manages to make the kill would be awesome (not that achievements mean anything in a game, mind you), and people in the raid could explain to their friends around them exactly how close they got to killing that particular boss.

This way you'd avoid the problem of healers and tanks blaming the dps for being "too slow all the time" and "essentially stealing our loot by slacking", with guilds imposing much harder dps requirements than ever before in order to ensure the fastest kills. Gearscore would go away though: dps would float back to the top, since real-world performance would now be crucial to the best possible progress in PuG raids.

That. And how often do healers really get the blame for wipes in raids? I haven't raided much at all, but whenever I've raided with my guild there's never any blame passed around at all, except very softly in guild forums after two months of constant wipes. Not even in PuG raids have I seen that blame game getting played.
@Ephemoron Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like suggesting more RTS elements into the game.

That may be an interesting idea. Aren't there similar ideas already in the Wrath content? (Not a huge WoWer)

It would introduce new elements to the game without fundamentally changing what we are already familar with among the different genres.

I also wanted to clarify when I said "To me, the whole "unfair" thing that's thrown around in RMT discussions seems to be carried too far sometimes."

I may explain it in a future blog post but for now I'll just say: I think a percentage of the MMO player population is really losing out on what could be amazingly fun gameplay features for some abstract sense of fairness.

Isn't 'variable raid boss challenge' exactly what hard modes offer?

And rather than just 'faster', which is one metric, the bosses also gain new abilities that make the encounters more dynamic, for those that were burnt out on the normal modes.
I dislike the idea. It would make players even more elitists as they'd want to play only with players who have better gear to give better chance of killing the boss quicker. We'd end up with the poor being poorer while the rich being richer because the rich only wants to play with other rich, and only those rich ones are rewarded with rich rewards.
Though your idea has merit, in the case of WoW you get a problem: healers mana. Right now thats a non issue but the devs do not like that and they have plans to make mana regen important and limited in the next expansion. So you get another sort of enrage timer: when healers all turn OOM.
How about a number of mini-enrage steps for each boss and a miximum time for each fight.

So, you start against the normal 10 man version of the boss. If you kill him before the hard time limit is reached, the boss gets more HP and more abilities. Or you could think of it that every boss has several phases and the gameplay could change with each pahes. Each time you 'kill' him the difficulty and reward goes up. Then at the end of the fight (either when you hit the hard time limit or kill the most difficult version/phase) rewards are given as appropriate.

If everybody in the raid has killed the boss on the hardest mode already the raid leader should have a 'Finger of Death' spell to kill him for no loot and allow the raid to bypass the boss completly.

So, everybody can progress, you get to blame the dps for the poor quality of the loot and the leet players can go straight to the boss they want to work on.
They did this somewhat in ToC, where if you finish the hard modes in X number of attempts, you get more/better equipment. I dunno how popular that was, although that's sorta tied to ToC itself.

I find that not satisfactory insofar as there might be different reasons why some guild gets stuck at boss number X/12. Maybe that boss requires a lot of ranged dps and the guild has mostly melee dps, or some other reason. It is not as if boss N+1 is automatically harder than boss N, so a boss that has problems with one boss might well kill the boss after that easily.

There is a fairly linear progression in boss difficulty accepted in the raiding community. There really isn't any boss that you can be consistently prevented from killing due to guild makeup.

Most likely a guild that is 8/12 can't kill Putricide; which means they aren't coordinated enough yet for BQ or Sindragosa, while a guild that is 11/12 is already.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Zul'Aman with the timed chests.
I also love Julian's idea of more random abilities so a raid must actually think on their feet rather than just rehearse a scripted performance. More complex and random behavior from boss would be a far better gauge of determining ones skill that the simple gear checks many raids have become.

As for the timer issue, it could work, it depends on how much time is required and how much loot one could miss out on.
@Arrow clearly the extent of your ICC raiding experience is PuGing.
I really like this idea, and "Gevlon likes it" is usually equal to "cannot be implemented into a AAA MMO"

At first, it requires performance from DPS. The "casual guild" is based on the idea of a "helping" core of tanks and main healers with the "casual" DPS and off-healers. If DPS has responsibility, the guilds would be encouraged to dump bad DPS.

Secondly, it would make encounters brute-forcable by more healers/tanks. With undergeared we killed blood princes with 3 tanks 4 healers. Without enrage timer, the slowest kill could be trivialized with 4-5 healers. While it would fit the HC guilds (they run with 5 healers first week, 2 on the 10th) asking "casual" players is "unfriendly" and also doesn't work: the 2000DPS shadow priest is bad enough on his main spec, on healer offspec would be useless.
Not a bad idea.

But it's easier to just add a difficulty slider. Wiped 5x on hard? Put it to normal and try again.

Getting a bit off topic here, but...

The fact that you are right highlights the issue that raid are far too easy. The most challenge people get from raids is "dancing". I can find a single video on you tube of just about any fight and expect the boss to follow the exact same strategy, almost down to the second.

Since Wrath most instance and many raids are nothing more that tank and AoE. In BC Crowd Control was necessary, I recall many LFG request specifically for CC classes. Of course people complained that end game was not as assessable to all players. It was enough to remove attunement and lower the amount of players needed, they didn't need to drop the overall difficulty.

I would like to see some end game content that really lets players show off. Remember the unbeatable boss from FF11? Why not have an optional boss at was designed to be nearly unbeatable, without rage timers? That would be the best bar of them all, how far you made it into that fight.
I can tell you right now what Ghostcrawler would say to this idea: it would encourage raid stacking to such an extent that it would make DPS and buff balancing even more of nightmare. I can imagine the howls now from the hybrid DPS classes. It would also encourage raids to cut healers and cause all sorts of drama on that front.

In short, with a fixed raid group the idea could work, but that isn't the world we live in. Rather than fostering group solidarity, it'll cause people to be at each other's throats; people who were previously carried for social reasons will be the target of much ire. This would also cause much more rapid burnout among the upper tier of raiders as their higher gear throughput would lead to more power which would lead to more gear which would allow them to more rapidly finish all content.

Too many unintended consequences.
I'd agree with that. One other thing that would make the dialing up/down of difficulty possible would be random effects for each boss. I don't think its a challenge at all when I know every ability that the boss is going to use, down to the exact second he decides to use it and its precise range/damage. Blah.
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