Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Nils on unpredictable dungeons

Nils, otherwise known as "the guy who writes more on Tobold's blog than Tobold does", finally realized that his analytical mind and good writing skills are better employed on making a blog of his own. He has posted a very interesting article on unpredictable dungeons, listing their advantages and disadvantages.

Historically speaking it is curious that Blizzard, who mastered the random dungeon in Diablo, ended up using so few unpredictable factors in the dungeon design for World of Warcraft. As Nils says, that leads to dungeons becoming boring after X runs, and a requirement to "know" raid dungeons before even going there for the first time. Is having to follow instructions from YouTube or some Bosskiller site by the letter really the most fun we could possibly have? Or does this predictable dungeon design lead to people confusing "skill" with the ability to react quickly with a predetermined response to a predetermined event? Me, I'd be all for some more unpredictable dungeons, where players would actually have to think tactically to succeed, and not just follow the script.
Thing is it wasn't just Diablo in the nineties. Daggerfall, Dungeon Keeper, they all spawned random maps.

I imagine there was some design reason to "improve" upon random maps with the current crop of fixed map games.

Be interesting to hear if people know what it might have been.
Oh scratch that, Nils lists them in his post (which I really should have read first)

I was actually amazed when I first got WoW that every single dungeon is always exactly the same, up to every single spawned creature. I had expected dungeons to be a lot more random.

The very least they should be, in my opinion, is partially random. Have some fixed well-designed rooms/encounters/etc. And the rest, make it random.

So when you do the Caves of Blah today, the small fish boss's lake is somewhere to the right, at the end of a relatively easy path, but lo and behold, today he is somewhere on the left and the path leading there has a lot more difficult opponents.

And why end there? Why is every single piece of existing equipment predefined. Why can I not find a Sword of Haxxor that gives me +5 strength and +3 Dex today, and a similar looking Sword of Haxxor that gives +4 Strength and +4 Dex tomorrow.

Note that I do NOT like fully randomized dungeons though, some encounters or environments are so well done that they should be kept... But the path towards the important pieces of the dungeon? Please randomize.
Thanks for the link, Tobold :).
CoH did randomly generated instances, with mobs scaling to you and your parties levels. Later on you could change the diffilculty, creating your own "heroic" modes. However, they could get boring fast, especially when you keep seeing the same tile set over, and over, and over again - which made the feature mostly predictable.

However, it is a feature much missing from CO. That coupled with the more WoW like questing model would help the newer game out alot.

I do think then that more should be done with unpredictable dungeons. Random patrols, random ambushes perhaps. Random levels/power of mobs? Perhaps instead of totally random dungeons using predictable repeating tiles, have custom dungeons with many routes. Perhaps some of those routes would be less likely to be open, and lead to new bosses. Leave space for these dungeons to be expanded, to add new life and unpredicability to them (and keep the punters returning in the hope of seeing something new!).

Even scripted boss battles could be giving random modifiers, and even loot could be linked to random factors.

It's just scratching the surface, but there are so many possibilities that could be done by a bright design team, instead of playing it safe :P

And speaking of dungeons, why are most MMO dungeons made by giants? Yes I know from a design perspective they want 10-40 people to be able have some place to stand, but I always couldn't help wondering what race of giants made all the instance in WoW. Dungeons should be claustraphobic, not vast open and cavernous...and BRIGHT!
And speaking of dungeons, why are most MMO dungeons made by giants?

Unfortunately that question has a rather mundane answer: MMO dungeons are huge and cavernous so that there is room for the camera, as most people play in 3rd person view.
My vote goes to unpredictable dungeons.

In classic wow, I always tried to get entire groups of first-timers together for a new dungeon (in character, if possible). But there's always someone who knows the place already/asks his guildies about it, and proudly explains all secrets after the first wipes.

The very few times we just went in and tried ... were the moments of magical Uberness I'll never forget in my life.
The good news is that gaming technology has moved on quite a bit from the random number generated dungeons of Diablo. Checkout Left 4 Dead's "Director" for an example of state of the art in procedurally generated content.
Randomly generated content often doesn't make a whole lot of sense or it becomes far too obvious that it is randomly generated content. (/second Baktru)

Most of WoW's instances are designed with a purpose (even if it is fairly linear).

By the way, you also had randomly generated dungeons/content in EQ1 when Lost Dungeons of Norrath was introduced. It was fun for a bit but got tedious fast.

Same deal with CoH or even Anarchy Online (which also had mission generators that made mini-instances).

That said, having a mix could be interesting.
Unpredictable dungeons for Ensidia and Premonition? Yes.

Unpredictable dungeons for my guild and yours? No.

I've always felt the unpredictable part of raiding is the raid not the dungeon.

It's why people choose to raid with the same group of people they normally do.

It's why when you bring in new people they inevitably screw up on the easy stuff and you sigh because you remembered how to move out of fire last week.

It's why Greedy Goblin can't buy a permanent raid spot. Because having a bunch of people screw up at different intervals makes for a long night.

It's why PvP events in PvE give lesser guilds headaches.

Leave the unpredictable part to whether our tank is going to go emo after the first boss and log off. Leave it for if the rogue we rely on for kicks internet connection is stable for a change. Allow our mage to let his son fill in for him without telling us, except his markedly missing voice on vent. Leave it for the chance our healer is able to bounce a baby on the knee while dodging the wrong color ball.

The majority of us have too much unexpected events in our raid to be able to enjoy it in our dungeon each week.
It's all a matter of quality. Until someone creates an algorithm capable of dynamically generating random content of at least similar quality to the hand crafted one, every sane developer will go the latter route.

This doesn't mean that small random changes that are more cosmetic in nature couldn't be successfully woven in - Diablo is a good example, the layout of the levels was different in a minor way, but the general content publishing rules were adhered to strictly.
I like random maps but the interest seems to have faded in favor of manually generated maps.

I can think of some reasons why this was done.
-Fairness. You can make a perfectly symmetric map in e.g. starcraft which gives both players no advantages.
-User generated maps can get more attention to detail from the artists.
-It's easy! Making a tool that randomly generates maps will take a lot more time then generating a few maps by hand.
-Conversion to 3D. Old games were in 2D. Creating a random map generator is easier in 2D.

It's a loss. One of the biggest things missing from Majesty 2 which was in the original game is a random map generator. It greatly lengthens the replayability. Not a single mission was the same if you replayed it. Even the entire campaign was fromed from randomized missions. And it offered a "generate me a mission" option.

I remember that Age of Kings also had a great random map generator. You could even create your own scripts to generate random maps. An oasis random map. A forest random map. A hills random map. A small islands random map. Etc. It was a great system which I wish more games had.

Left 4 dead 2 will include maps where the AI director can change your paths. Getting too easy? Close one door and you'll enter a more difficult room. Too hard? Open an easy door. Great idea and since it's Valve it'll probably be implemented well.

I think it just comes down to saving costs. Making things randomized takes developer time. Developer time costs money so it's a way to save money on your projects.
I would say people do not like random maps, at all. Nearly every single person still actually playing diablo 2 (as opposed to botting it) is either using maphack, or an auto-teleporter to overcome the randomness.
Why should I comment on my blog, if I can comment on Tobolds :)

I would say people do not like random maps, at all. Nearly every single person still actually playing diablo 2 (as opposed to botting it) is either using maphack, or an auto-teleporter to overcome the randomness.

Your observation is right, but your conclusion isn't.
You could apply the same logic to boss fights:
People always try to end the boss fight and kill the boss. Therefore they don't like boss fights.

We all know that we optimize the fun out of it. But we shouldn't conclude that we don't like fun, but rather that the optimization has to be fun.
I'm not against some randomization on principle, but I fear that the implementation would add nothing but irritation. Randomization often turns out be more bland and tedious than repetition.

On balance, I'd prefer to repeat a well-designed dungeon with individual "flavor" than run several anonymous generated ones.
I don't think I understand your logic.
Last time I checked, the fun part is killing the boss (or I'm terribly missing the point somehow), so we want to get to the boss as fast as possible. Randomness in the map only slows us down getting to the boss/the fun part.
Maybe more randomness on boss behaviour would be appreciated, though I highly doubt that too.
Blizzard has been nerfing their static dungeons and bosses constantly, because too many players fail and complain.
So I'm pretty sure people do not like randomness, but do like killing the big guy.
Btw I'm sorry Nils, I realize I should be posting my comments on your blog instead. ;)
I'm not vain, so don't worry :)

Randomness in the map only slows us down getting to the boss/the fun part.

If that were true, you were right - obviously.

Anybody who ever played any dungeon crawl game, however, can tell you that exploring a dungeon can be a lot of fun.
Thinking about strategies to deal with a group of 8+ mobs can be fun as well. You do not need a WoW-type Boss to face a challenge.

I remember shattered halls (BC) pre nerfs. We had a mage kite them with blizzard, because there was no way to tank them with the equip available.

I do not talk about a daily heroic that you want to do in 30 minutes, but about a dungeons for 4-6 players at WoW-raid difficulty. I will write about that tomorrow. Anybody knows ADOM here ? :)
Does Nils really comment that much on this site? hehe, funny if so.
One thing I think should be done more often is have certain elements of certain fights be random or different. Think Chromag in BWL, however make each attempt be random, not just random for this evening or reset. That way the group has to learn what they are facing and adapt in order to take it down. Of course eventually it will become a few seconds of figuring out what "the trick is this time" and doing the appropriate pre-planned thing. The game already does this somewhat with the Faction Champions fight, but I think there could be more use of individual fight randomness.

Some of the more fun fights I have ever been in is where something unexpected happens: Tank DC's, the scheduled interrupter dies or lags, and the group has to on the fly adapt and make up tactics to salvage the fight rather than wipe and try again. Perhaps the Balance druid jumps out and tosses heals, or a DK grabs aggro or a mage notices noone is within tank range of Kol and steps in to take a hit so the whole raid doesnt get macked. Yes this is part of being a good raider, but sometimes fights like this are more fun than one where everything goes exactly as planned. So perhaps introduce a bit more randomness so each run thru is not the same as the last.
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