Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Random Battle invents heroic Stratholme

In one of the best ideas I've read for some time, Cameron from Random Battle proposes that Blizzard should regularly create new "heroic" versions of older dungeons. He points out that when Wrath of the Lich King comes out, there will be 22 dungeons nobody goes to any more, and that isn't even counting the larger raid dungeons. Chances are that anyone who started to play World of Warcraft after TBC came out never saw Stratholme, and somebody starting after Wrath of the Lich King will never see any of the Outlands dungeons.

Of course the more different dungeons you have, the harder it becomes to get a group together for one of them, especially given the lousy current LFG system where you can't sign up for more than 3 of them, and "any heroic" isn't an option. So my suggestion would be the following:

1) Cross-server dungeons, including a cross-server LFG system, which works a bit like the cross-server battleground queues.
2) Every dungeon should have a heroic version, even the old Azeroth ones. Even the Deadmines! In most cases that is just a matter of increasing the mob's stats, creating new loot tables, and adding a badge of justice to the bosses.
3) When the level cap goes up, all heroic versions automatically also go up to the new level cap. So heroic Ramparts after WotLK comes out should be level 80, not level 70 any more.
4) Even old raid dungeons should have heroic versions. Hey, I'd love to revisit heroic Molten Core from time to time! The heroic raid dungeons from previous expansions should give less loot than the new normal raid dungeons, but should give badges of justice too. That could actually work as an ideal training ground for newbie raiders!
I have long said that after too many expansions, there becomes simply too much to do. You have thousands and thousands of recipes floating around. I think newbies would find it a little bit overwhelming.

If they aren't going to redesign old content, I would be in favor of actually removing some of it. AQ for instance. Totally worthless instance now. Dire Maul? Stratholme? LBRS? Totally useless. They're just adding clutter.
While I see your point, I have to disagree with you Blachawk. I would much rather have more options than less. I think the concept of heroic mode for everything, not just dungeons but raids too, would go a heck of a long way towards revitalizing some of these older areas.

Though I shudder to think at running a Heroic Sunken Temple. That place is annoying enough on its own. Heroic Scarlet Monastary would be fun though.
When they first announced heroic mode, I thought that this is exactly what they had in mind. I was actually surprised to see that they limited it to outlands dungeons.

I will note that I suspect heroic modes take a little more development time than just buffing the mobs and loot tables. They are still tweaking the present day Outlands heroics. Some of them, like heroic Blood Furnace, are an incredible pain on heroic just due to the mechanics of that 2nd boss fight. Others, like Botanica, don't feel much different from the normal mode at all.
I know a number of guilds on my server that use the old raid content as training instances for their pre-70's. The instances are aimed at 60's, so they're easy enough for a group of 65-69, and thus allows them to learn to raid effectively in a relatively safe and fun way before graduating to Kara or wherever when they hit 70.
I think they'd have to at least redo all the loot that drops to BC standards. Which for most would just be adding a big stamina boost.

If they would just upgrade all the Pre BC loot to BC standards then strat, scholo DM and even MC and ZG would be worth your time. Add an extra 30 points of stamina to every MC epic and they suddenly become great leveling gear.
I remember seeing requests for heroic old world dungeons on official forums before, and every time the blue response has been "we're not doing that, but we're giving you CoT: Stratholme instead".

I'd like to have heroic versions of old instances as well, I do them every now and again, either solo or with another friend, just because I really liked some of them. It'd be nice to go there and get something useful in return as well.
I think that Vonbiram has it right. I suspect there is quite a bit of work balancing and play-testing and loot-testing all the changes that go into making an instance heroic. I assume that the ratio is likely 1:3 or 1:4, i.e. that it would take as long to create one brand new instance as it does to "upgrade" 3-4 old instances to heroic.

Personally, I think most people who want heroic version of old instances don't really know what they are getting into. They remember the "good old days" of running them, but not the bad. Do you remember wiping at 2 minutes left on a Baron run? Do you remember wiping over and over and over again on Strat with all the patrolling Gargoyles? Do you remember the struggles with kiting Drakkisath in UBRS? How he'd conflagrate, and kill tanks in 2-3 seconds?

People would try a "hard" Strat once or twice, then get bored. The design of the old instances isn't better than current ones, in fact it's much worse in most cases. It's simply a feeling of "the old days were better". I would guarantee my in game gold on it.
I was also surprised that only Outlands dungeons got the heroic treatment - when I heard about the creation of heroic dungeons I just assumed that meant anything above, say, Sunken Temple.

My novel idea for dust-bin dungeons is to redesign them for solo play. That is, add a solo mode that scales the dungeon based on your level. So a solo run of Shadowfang Keep at 65 is more challenging and the same solo of Stratholme a bit less difficult.

This could also lead to the introduction of solo-only drops and timed competitions. A friend and I used to race each other by soloing Deadmines at 60. We zoned in at the same time and the last one out of an empty dungeon was declared winner. Kind of like pvep I guess?
Cameron from Random Battle is not the first to come up with this idea. Cameron from Random Battle is nowhere near the first to come up with this idea. Heroic old-instances were talked about at the very announcement of a 'heroic' mode, back in 2006.

There's a very good reason why they didn't do this. That reason is because developer time is finite.

Here's a question for you all. Suppose that you have to ship a product in 8 months, and in that amount of time, you can design, create and balance one instance. Do you go back to the old stuff and spend your time rebalancing that, or do you build a new one and balance that? Which do you think will be more popular?

In this situation, it really is either/or. Either you make new content, or you go back and work on old content. You don't have time to do both. Given the choice, most folks would rather have completely new content than slightly rehashed and retuned old content.

In conclusion, take a look at this link for some insight into what Blizzard considers good development. Pay particular attention to #4 and #6.

I don't believe Blizzard has never thought about going back and doing heroic versions of the deadmines, or of Stratholme, or Scholomance, or Dire Maul. I think that they spent some time on it, realized that the opportunity cost to do a good enough job would be too prohibitive, and thus shelved it in favor of creating more overall new content.

While I don't think balancing a heroic instance of an old location is something they can do overnight, it has to be infinitely easier than making a new instance. The battle mechanics are already there. All they have to do is buff them, put them on the PTR and have a good group run through. I think they could do an instance a week and easily add more content.

Hire one or two new people to do this. I don't think they have an infinite amount of money, and I do think the purchase by Activision probably constrains their budget, but this would be valuable.

Yes, they want to focus on new content, but so many people are just starting this game and haven't had a chance to try some of the content. I think it is a better value to use it. I only started about a year after release, but I've only been to Strat & UBRS once or twice, never been to many of the other old lvl 60 instances such as Dire Maul. They don't even need to adjust the gear, just add badges. The other stuff is actually still valuable since lower level greens/blues now sell for good money. Just remove the bind on pickup for heroics.

And those worried about too much content, that is why daily heroics exist - they direct people to the same content.

Plus, cross realm instances would be amazing. It could make finding a group for normal mode dungeons easier when you're leveling up as well.
Oooo... I have another idea.

If buffing old instances is hard, how about a daily or two that send you back to an old normal instance alone for farming.

i.e. So and so needs Whiteman's Chapeau for something or another. You turn it in and either get a badge or a lot of money or both. Even some supply bag with the possibility of a badge. Most people can easily solo at 70 many old instances. It could even be a reason for lvl 70's to run an lowbie through the instance (I'll run you through, but i get the chapeau, deal.)
While I don't think balancing a heroic instance of an old location is something they can do overnight, it has to be infinitely easier than making a new instance. The battle mechanics are already there. All they have to do is buff them, put them on the PTR and have a good group run through. I think they could do an instance a week and easily add more content.

This is probably because you don't know how an instance (or a game level/map) is created. You've got a bunch of people that need do this, and their skill sets don't overlap.

Generally, any sort of level will require at minimum:

- Designer/Scripter (spawn NPCs, trigger dialogue, adjust data values like health, HP, etc. Also itemization)
- Level designer/Builder (create geometry, place objects, place doors, lighting, etc.)

By going with an existing instance, you've cut the level designer/builder out. That means that you've still got a bottleneck on the designer/scripter side. This causes a problem: Your level builder is idle, since he has nothing to do while the scripter is working on the heroic instance.

So what do you have him do? Work on creating another instance in the meantime? Who's going to script that instance? Blizzard actually *had* this problem when they were producing regular WoW. A whole bunch of instances were done map-wise, but were nowhere near complete script-wise and the art team got really upset because crunch time rolled around and they had to go in to the office for long, long hours and do nothing. So much so that a bunch of them quit in 2004 for NCSoft Irvine, which caused the radical art shift from Tier 1 (let's look fantasy) to Tier 2 (let's add glowy bits to everything) and the Power Ranger armor look following in AQ.

Hire more scripters? Let's say you do. Let's say that you pull them from the ether, rather than having to go through an interview process to actually find good people and then convince them to move to Irvine. Let's even handwave the month or two of time it takes for them to get caught up to speed, learn to use the tools, etc. away. Now you have more scripters than builders. Then what happens when you run out of instances to build heroics around, because the builders are all busy making new instances? You've got a bunch of idle scripters.

This is an expressly simplified system. Generally, any given instance (level/map) will require a lighting pass, character pass, effects pass, sound pass, animation pass, management, production, scheduling, etc. It isn't anywhere near as easy as you make it sound. I've been working in games for about 6 years now. What you're asking for in the time frame you're asking for is about as feasible as asking for bottled lightning in three seconds.


I agree that this is Blizzard’s stated position, but I also think it’s a major mistake. My biggest issue with the old world content is the total lack of relevance after they released the expansion. Many people never set foot into Molten Core, Blackwing Liar, Onyxia, AQ, ZG, Stratholme, UBRS.

The concept of retuning old world content is not foreign to Blizzard. They already did it with Mudsprocket, changing elites, and reducing the XP curve. It’s not unreasonable to think that they could go back and tune up some of the old encounters.

I get the concept behind focusing your development time on new content, but retuning an existing instance to a Heroic mode would require CONSIDERABLY less development time than developing a brand new instance.

Oddly, Blizzard offers up the exact opposite argument when asked about new battlegrounds. They continually patch and tweak and attempt to fix broken battlegrounds and then say that a new battleground requires significant development time.

A better design philosophy would try to keep content relevant into the next expansion. Many people will also never see the inside of Black Temple or Sunwell Isle. It’s silly stupid to not plan for making that content available to everyone at some point.
well rawr the biggest problem I see with your buying into blizzards excuses is the money they make.

no reason in a 3 year period the content cant be refreshed. Arguing they can't refresh content is like saying ford can't redisign an existing car it would take too many resources. That's just a weak stance. Why can't they hire a new smaller group of devs and just have them redo one area at a time and let them hit as content patches? hell if they just redid one instance a quarter I predict 80 percent of the whining would go away. Then every 3 months we'd be getting something new.

But instead its a bunch of excuses for why they can't when it's really they don't want too. they'd rather squeeze the turnip till it falls apart than keep watering it and trying to keep it healthy longer.

I think your logic would make perfect sense if you were talking about a small studio. But not a game with around 5 million US and EU subscribers paying 15 dollars a month.
I just saw your follow-up post, Rawr. My day job is in project management and I have had up to 7 teams reporting to me at one time. The resource allocation problem that you describe is a problem that can be easily solved by implementing proper project management. Idle resources that quit because they have nothing to do is an indictment of the project or program manager failing to have an adequate timeline established. These types of problems are easily mitigated with proper planning and foresight. To the point of hiring additional resources… Good project management also dictates that we have a good process for onboarding new employees. Turnover is inevitable and is a risk we can safely assume will occur during a project lifecycle. Therefore, having a proper onboarding strategy that allows us to mitigate that risk is essential to keeping our project from being delayed. A good onboarding process can be extended to hiring new employees if the current resource allocation is proving inadequate. I’m not saying these things are EASY, but that is the task at hand and with proper planning and process you can make them EASIER.

To my earlier point, the basic design is flawed in that old content is made no longer relevant as new content is release. The long term solution to that problem is to consider that in your overarching design and think about the entire lifecycle for the content at the time of inception.
well rawr the biggest problem I see with your buying into blizzards excuses is the money they make.

You're right in one regard - they could do it if they really wanted to. However, they don't and with good reason. They have examined the data, and the management have made the decision - they don't believe that it is a good decision at this point because they stand to gain a lot less from it than they would by introducing brand new content.

That's a load of crap. Having more money doesn't mean that they can create experienced, good MMO designers out of thin air, get them to move to Irvine, and work for them. Having more money doesn't mean that you can just make things happen instantly. There's a lot of time that it takes to get involved. There's a lot of planning and effort. Everything that the designers do has to be scheduled and rolled out based on the production department. Let's say you start hiring all these mythical designers out of the ether, like I said. Let's handwave the training required too. Let's just say they appear out of nowhere, bright and fresh, ready to tackle all of the challenges of creating new content.

New designers means that you need more managers. More managers begets even more management, which requires scheduling, production and administration. You can't just point a designer at something and say "Ok, go". You need to review his or her work, figure out what is and is not working, find the bugs in it, and make sure it is going according to schedule.

Ironically, it is actually much easier for a small studio to iterate and crank out content for this precise reason - you don't have that massive bureaucratic overhead.

Look for yourself. Look at the old content and see how much of a ghost town it is. Now consider: If you revamped the old content and made it 'somewhat' more relevant, would more people go back and do it than do the daily quests on Sunwell Isle, Magister's Terrace or the raid instance at Sunwell Plateau? Would the new content be more interesting to players than the old?

That's the decision their management made. I'm not writing off the possibility of them going back eventually. Blachawk actually made a good point - if you keep expanding vertically, eventually the slope becomes too hard to climb. I am sure that eventually they will go back to the old world content and work on it. However, they have determined that now is not that time (and probably rightly so).

Right now, they stand to gain a lot more in terms of subscriber gain and retention by introducing new content than by rehashing old stuff. Do you honestly think a combination of heroic deadmines, heroic stratholme and heroic Mauradon would garner as much interest from the players as Sunwell Isle did?


Consider the position Blizzard is in. They've got the biggest MMOG in the world, and it's their *first* MMOG. There are no consultants to hire to help streamline rolling out new content, or retrofitting old content. There is no manual, there is no book, they have as much experience in the project management or logistics of running a subscription-based online service as anyone. They are making their business decisions based on their stated goals, which have worked very well in the past.

I'm a developer. I've worked for many companies that have put out great games before, but also have had their quirks. Blizzard's peculiar quirk is that they often have to do something themselves before realizing it doesn't work.

They mentioned at the Blizzcon pvp panel that they originally intended to have a 5v5 arena-type battleground called Gurubashi Arena, which was a large zone with three floors, where you could jump down, climb up, and was very maze-like.

Anyone who's created an FPS map knows that if you have a relatively small team size and a huge map, the players involved will spend a lot of time looking for each other and less time shooting each other. The fewer the number of people, the longer they tend to spend looking for each other. However, Blizzard did not actually grasp this until they had actually built the map, tried it out and nearly pushed it into production. They cut the map for the very reason I said - people spent too much time looking for each other and not enough fighting. It wasn't fun.

You are correct. If they could plan everything out properly, it could work. If they could somehow see the future and know that this is what was going to happen, maybe it could be done. However, that's a whole bunch of "ifs" based around a whole bunch of circumstances to which we aren't privy. Given my knowledge of Blizzard's "company culture", I'd say that they are doing the best they can and making mistakes along the way... but that's also fairly standard for a video game company.

People on a team need stuff to do, or else they get taken and put on other teams (Starcraft 2, Diablo 3).

I think that you are the one drinking the Kool Aid Rawr. I understand the whole push to the future and forget the past thing. But I think it's shortsighted. If they retweaked the old content I think you'd be amazed at all the people that would go back and redo it or roll alts and level again because it was newer and different.

The only thing you keep saying is that it would be difficult and it might not work. If the people making that decision had been in charge when they started WOW we might not have it.

What you are in effect saying is that after being enveloped by Vivendi blizzard is becoming a CAN'T do company.
I think they could make this game last 3 or 5 years longer than its current potential life by retweaking old stuff. I'm not even saying they should do it all at once. I'm saying why can't it happen one zone at a time bit by bit.

And I do work with developers closely and on Huge worldwide Databases. I understand there are difficulties. But it is possible to go back and retweak stuff 2 or 3 content patches a year without breaking thier system.

And if its not and thier culture is what makes that impossible. They in the long run they are doomed.

If its just that they don't want too. Then these discussions will never end.

But I'll never agree with you on this point. I'll say what I've said before. I think the biggest impediment to retweaking old content is fighting the devs who want to work on the new stuff because that's what makes thier resume's look good.

Nobody wants to maintain and fix old code.
... but that's also fairly standard for a video game company.

I didn’t comment on it earlier, but you hit upon something that I thought about as I wrote my last entry. One of the things that always strikes me whenever I read any developer interview is how poorly organized they appear. It’s really no surprise they miss deadlines and ship dates. I’m certain that I’m held to a much higher standard in my professional life. I’m held responsible to my commitments and have contracts in place that require certain a certain service level to be achieved. These issues you describe are not unique to the gaming industry and companies the world over plan and develop process for mitigating them. Perhaps I am just unsympathetic to the plight of the game developer, but I am not willing to accept someone not knowing how to run their business efficiently as an excuse.

I suspect the problem gaming companies experience has to do with the emphasis on creative people. Broadly speaking, creative people tend not to be as organized and less rigid about things like a timeline. Since most companies hire from within they are more likely to promote creatives into positions of project management. After all, having a subject matter expert in a position of authority can be extremely helpful in the long-term guidance of your company. Unfortunately, management requires entirely different priorities and skillsets than many creative people possess. The result is that you end up with people in positions that don’t know how to manage a project successfully. We helped solve a similar problem by introducing project management classes for people who were most likely to be promoted. The whole field of project management really stems out of a need to teach people who don’t have these skills intuitively to successfully manage a project.

What I find surprising is that making all content accessible and relevant to the masses is not part of the overall design strategy. This is what I mean when I talk about foresight in design and thinking about the entire lifecycle of the content. In my mind, a good design would encourage people to move through that old content.

Accessibility and availability does not equal relevancy. Stratholme is accessible. The gear rewards just don’t make it relevant. Simply upgrading the stats on gear drops out of the old level 60 endgame items to make them comparable to Outland gear would go a long way to making that content relevant as people leveled through their late 50s and early 60s.
It sounds to me like a splendid idea. We discussed it a bit back in Jan '07 under Goodbye Molten Core
I for one have 'lost' the opportunity to even visit the instances from Sunken Temple up, and because of the fact that I'm levelling up as slow in real time as I am, I'm already missing the Ouotlands starting instances due to the fact that the groups just aren't forming or fall apart before we enter the instance.

Which is a shame as whole, because there is so much content I would want to visit.

How is it possible that EQ2 world, even the starter areas, are full of life and from all level ranges whenever you login, but WoW is void till Shattrah city and high end areas? The only thing I can come up with is the game design which doesn't render the area obsolete after you 'outlevel' it.

It seems to me, that Blizzard is catering for the capped toons, and hopes the drive will last. However, 'newcomers' like me, who haven't been there from the start and are getting the dumbed down-easy mode World of Solocraft up to lv60 (now, later lv70?), will hit a brick wall when they 'should' be able to play the raid game. Without the experience you can get from the levelling game with instances and grouping you are not good enough for the raid teams and so on.

Also I have already experienced that I feel cheated from a large portion of the content that is there, but I have no way of entering. I'm not interested in boost runs by lv70's, nor enter an instance at higher level, because the challenge isn't there. It's a completely different experience and not an achievement.

Frustration, feeling cheated and the brick wall of end game will eventually take the newcomers off of the game. Well, at least these have taken the fun out of the game for me.

Copra, all I can think is that you are on an empty server.
My alt is on a server with a high population.
I am in LFG a lot, and every single day I see people LFM to pre-BC instances. I also see plenty of 'low-level' BC instances like Ramparts, Underbog, Crypts and so on.
The ones I don't see much of are Shattered Halls and Shadow Labs normal.Even so, there is the opportunity to go to an instance every single time I log on, and that is as a dpser.
I'm not even in a guild at the moment, so I don't have any guildies to ask for runs, either.
Vlad, thanks for the info, but I don't think Thunderhorn (EU) is a low pop server. It's more like an old, stabilised one with mostly capped toons.

Well, too bad for me, then.
Fortunately as a Paladin I was able to experience Strathholme, Dire Maul and Scholomance since all three instances are involved in the epic mount quest. Unfortunately in all three instances we got the quest goal complete and got out so aside from Scholomance (we completed it once when getting the charger quest done for a guildie) I've never completed the whole instance.

What would be cool to see is once you reach the level cap you head back to your starting area for some special quests and maybe a bonus instance. I always thought it would be cool to go back to your roots after you get all powerful.
no vlad I've tried several medium to high pop servers before I settled on hellscream.

yeah there are groups forming all the time. but in my experience most of them never actually get started. YOu spend an hour forming a Sunken temple group as you are summoning everyone there someone has to go. Worst case I've had to replace 4 of 5 people as we were running Ragefire Chasm.

If you just watch the chat it seems like more groups are forming than really are. And probably 2/3's of the groups I've done were with 2 hunters, my priest and a mage or warlock. Long painful runs. I'm a bit twisted and like that but most people don't and just quit instancing.

But Cappa if you are willing to have longer runs than normal find a couple of good hunters or a palladin or two and you can do those instances. If you wait for a perfect group tank, healer and dps you may never group. At levlel 47 and 12 or so runs I've had that once.
Sam, Ragefire Chasm is the ultimate noob instance; I wouldn't expect much joy from that. I went there myself at Lv 18 or so, and it was pretty tedious.

I also did Wailing Caverns with a newbie group, and it was plain no-one knew how to play.
Fortunately these early instances are very forgiving.

My Belf is on Ghostlands(EU); maybe I'm lucky. I am still struggling to gear up for Heroics, though. Everyone seems to be doing Sunwell stuff, and the number of instance groups outside of Quel Danas has certainly fallen.

Would Heroic instances make it easier for solo players to pug? Probably not. It would simply mean the same number of players stretched over an even greater number of instances. Fine if you have regular playing partners, as I do on my Alliance character, but my Belf doesn't.
That last paragraph should read 'Would heroic versions of old instances...'
I still think that if they'd just upgrade all the blues and epics in the old world dungeons to BC standards it would get massivley better. Then gear in those instances would be worth having.

For instance the Argent Dawn staff a quest reward for strat has +30 int. not really good by BC standards. But if it were +30int and +30 stamina then suddenly its worth haveing til 63 or so.

Also if MC,ZG and AQ20 loot were worth keeping till 65 or so then people could learn to raid while leveling. If they want too.

Upgrade the loot and people will run those instances more. I'd bet all my toons gold on it.

Heroic versions would be nice. Even if they just patched them in one or two a year. But iit
One of the things that always strikes me whenever I read any developer interview is how poorly organized they appear. It’s really no surprise they miss deadlines and ship dates.

Blizzard has never missed a deadline or ship date that I know of, for a major release. They do this specifically by not releasing dates until they are SURE that they can make that date.

For all the animosity that they get about the "soon" answer, you can be sure that they would have a lot more problems if they had to continually push back actual released dates.
@ james. But they never ever ship anything close to the times that they indicate are likely. Perception rules in marketing. The tell people expansions should come out every year and they hit about the 2 year mark on average.

While yes i will agree with you that they never ever miss thier hard dates, they cause the problem of perception by playing around with soft dates.

And thier content model just isn't good enough for 2 years between launches. They seem to get about 6 months of good happy playtime and then the discontent begins to set in.
Critical dates that are key to your desired timeline need not be publically announced dates. Blizzard may not post a ship date to you, but you can be certain that they have an internal date that they have targeted as a release date. I guarantee that the CEO has been given an expected RTM date and I would be utterly shocked if they haven’t slipped passed that date several times already internally. And if they DON’T have internal dates, then they are WAY more unorganized than I even suspected.
As an MMORPG progresses, the zones seem emptier as content expands. This even happens in Guildwars which combines all the US servers into one gigantic server and instances all content.

I think one way to keep people together is to open up content for a short period of time and then take it down.

If old instances were made heroic, the heroic versions should only be available for a week or so at a time and then people should have to wait for the instance to spawn again next year. The after sought items that drop from these new heroics could be status based items that are rare and don't clash with normal loot.
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