The Vision of a new MMO Encounter Paradigm

I was debating about having a further play on words by attempting to create an acronym that would spell Escaflowne or change the title to be something like Record of Lodoss War but in the end the acronyms would be so contrived that it was not worth the play on words.  This is all because I have watched a lot of Anime lately while leveling alts, I did that to keep from wanting to claw my eyes out doing the same quests for the 6th, 7th, 8th + time, I am now up to 8 85s.

I like the new stories and how the quests are tied to a story in Cataclysm more than they were in Wrath I just wish they were a little less connected so we would have more yet small stories.   This way more quests hubs are available to pick and choose from.  Anyway this is side tangent is not what I want to bring up in this post.

So this is going to be one long post which will be essentially 2 parts.  The first part on content difficulty and the second part will use existing binary encounters and show ways that they could have been designed for greater granularity and teaching of mechanics.

Part 1 – General Theory on Content Difficulty:

Realm of Infinite Possibilities

For this lets use this blue-red gradient image represent the infinite solution space that is all encounters with varying mechanics and hp/damage scaling also taking into consideration number of players.

10 and 25 Equal – only Normal/Hardmode

Now lets just say for argument’s sake that 10 and 25 man are of equal difficulty and the only difference is in the logistics of forming said group.  Further lets say there are only 2 encounters of the same boss, an easy and a heroic version.  This leaves us with the following image/gradient or gradient with no grading.

 

10 and 25 with Normal/Hardmode

Again to make it a little more complicated lets now assume 10 and 25 are not equal.  I know Blizzard tries to make them equal but in some encounters 25-man raids have a little more give and take than the 10-man versions.  On the other hand sometimes 25 players running around end up causing more problems for one another than 10 players.  This will leave us with the next image.

 

I am not labeling which section represents what mode of content because that is hard to say and it varies between encounters.

The great Divide

Now the discussion gets complicated there are some that view all content on 1 scale of difficulty while others separate the 5, 10 and 25 man content.

For example a commenter on Lissanna’s blog post at Restokin.com named Galashin posted in reply to one of my comments and who I had a bit of a conversation with through the comments posted the following.

Easy: Solo content.
Normal: Normal 5mans.
Hard: (First tier) Heroics.
Heroic: (Second tier) Heroics.
Nightmare: Raids.
(Insanity: Heroic raids.)

Alternatively,
Easy: Normal 5mans.
Normal: (First tier) Heroics.
Hard: (Second tier) Heroics.
Heroic: Raids.
Nightmare: Heroic raids.

My reply and the conversation in general brought me to write this post and just spell out exactly how I hope/wish/would like to see content in MMOs in the future.  I hope World of Warcraft but I won’t hold my breath.

My actual opinion on the great divide is who needs to divide they are both valid points of view and each are a subset of a greater solution space.  I am more interested in the greater solution space.  Additionally both seem to overlook the need for progressive solo play.

The last part about progressive solo play is actually a surprisingly volatile topic when discussing MMOs.  For some reason many get up in arms when someone suggests that the solo play part of the game is important.   The thing is as the solo play improves so do the total number of subscribers.  I will also take it a step further and say that as long as there is some way for a player to improve their avatar(s) their attention to the game will be kept, mostly.  After that point it gets into the Risk versus Reward versus Time Investment equation balancing.  The thing about the infinite solution space is that there is something for everyone.  However this solution space is just theoretical and impossible to implement.  The more money and resources you throw at the problem the more likely you are to approximate said solution but you will only approximate it.

Now back to pictures.

 

10 and 25 man content with multiple levels of difficulty on some bosses others just Normal/Heroic

Now based upon the number of bosses in a tier of content and the number of said bosses that have more than just a Normal/Heroic mode you get 2 gradients, one with 8 shades and one with 16 shades or levels of difficulty.  Admittedly there would hopefully be more bosses than 8 or 16 if you count the different levels of encounter difficulty as a “new” boss.  Also there would be some bosses/encounters that are of equal difficulty.  The point is that as long as the alternative difficulties are not locked out it would allow all guilds and players to take on defeat content at the pace that works for them hopefully without stagnating for weeks or months.  That is the guild/raid group killer, stagnation.

What worked in the past such as the pace of content in Vanilla wow will only work for some and those seem to be a very small minority of the MMO player-base anymore.  I am glad I got into WoW at the end of Vanilla and did not raid before Burning Crusade, if I had, I most likely would have quit wow and never looked back.  I thought some of the requirements on encounters in EQ when I heard about them were insane, no 10-24 hour camping a boss for me, screw that, I have more important/fun things to do with my time.

 

10/25 man Content with all bosses having multiple levels of difficulty

At the very least I hope World of Warcraft can get to this point in future raid tiers.  This would mean that all boss encounters in Raids will have multiple or more than 2 levels of difficulty.   I do not think all fights need to have 4-5 different levels of difficulty but most should.  There would need to be several systems updated and changed to accommodate this but I think in the end it would be a drastic improvement to the game.

I used the 32 slice and 64 slice for this representation.  For example lets take the 7 boss Firelands Raid coming in 4.2, which will have by all indications the SoS set up that BoT,BDW,4W and ICC had where the heroic/hard modes are locked by the end boss of the instance.  At 7 bosses with 3 modes of difficulty we would have 21 slices but hopefully some would have 4-5 so an average of 4 per boss would leave us with 28.  Where as if the opening tier of 12-13 bosses had 4-5 levels of difficulty we would be looking at 48-65 levels of granularity.

I will continue with the levels of granularity segment before I get into breaking down a few existing fights into a more granular mode of progression and finally the reward structure for such granularity.

 

Extending the multiple levels of difficulty to dungeon bosses

Essentially here just take the discussion for 10 and 25 man content and now apply it to 5 man and small group encounters.  This would then give you something like 128 to 256 levels of granularity, just throwing powers of 2 out there to make the numbers relatively simple and uniform.

We could even extent these design methods to also apply to solo content through class challenges but that in and of itself can be an entire topic unto itself so I will save that for another post, again. I say again because I have described it partly in other posts in the past.

Part 2 – Encounter Breakdowns

I will describe the break down of 4 different encounters to show how I would add layers of difficulty to existing content to show how I hope future counters are designed in WoW or any other MMO. The 4 fights will be Omnitron Defence Council, Conclave of Wind, Atramedes, and Cho’gall.

Omnitron Defence Council

Level 1: In this mode the Trons only have their shield effect when at or below 50 energy.  This would be a long fight as you don’t get the damage buffs from the pools or clouds.

Level 2: In this mode the Trons gain 1 of their 2 abilities.

  • Arcanotron – Power Generator
  • Electron – Lightning Conductor
  • Magmatron – Acquiring Target
  • Toxitron – Poison Protocol

Level 3: Like the current Normal mode.

Level 4: Take the current Heroic mode, but 1/2 the effect of the new mechanic.

Level 5: Same as current Heroic mode.

 

Conclave of Wind
All levels of difficulty will have the resurrection timers on each when they hit 0/1% since this is one of the main tricks of the fight.

Level 1: At this level the Full energy abilities and the all alone debuff are not in play.

  • Anshal- Nurture (Add summoning)
  • Nezir – Wind Chill (Stacking Damage Debuff) to for Tank swapping another key mechanic.
  • Rohash- Slicing Gale

Level 2:

  • Anshal- Soothing Winds
  • Nezir – Permafrost
  • Rohash- Tornado

Level 3: Add the all alone debuff.

  • Anshal- Toxic Spores
  • Nezir – Ice Patch
  • Rohash- Slicing Gale

Level 4: Same as current normal mode.

Level 5: Same as current heroic mode.

 

Atramedes

Level 1:

  • Ground – Searing Flame, Modulation
  • Air – Roaring Flame Breath

Level 2:

  • Ground -Roaring Flame
  • Air – Roaring Flame

Level 3:

  • Ground – Sonic Breath
  • Air – Sonar Bomb

Level 4: Same as current normal mode.

Level 5: Same as current heroic mode.

 

Cho’gall

Level 1:

  • Phase 1 – Conversion, Twisted Devotion, Summon Corruption Adherent, Fester Blood
  • Corrupting Adherents – Depravity, Festering Blood
  • Phase 2 – Fury of Cho’gall

Level 2:

  • Phase 1 – Conversion, Summon Corruption Adherent
  • Corrupting Adherents – Corrupting Crash
  • Phase 2 – Corruption of the Old Gods

Level 3:

  • Phase 1 – Conversion, Summon Corruption Adherent
  • Corrupting Adherents – Sprayed Corruption
  • Phase 2 -Darkened Creations 4/10 – 83,000 HP (1/2 of normal)

Level 4: Same as current normal mode.

Level 5: Same as current heroic mode.

 

Why this is a better paradigm?

If you look how I broke down the abilities each mode adds at least 1 new mechanic per boss/add/phase.  This allows new raiders and guild to enter the content at what ever level they are ready to take on.  Because lets face it, WoWs player base and the player base of any MMO has a lot of Churn between players leaving or taking a break or friends recruiting new friends into the game.  There need to be an introductory mode at all levels of content since WoW and most new MMOs break the initial EQ/FFIX raiding paradigm already.  That being where to be geared for new content you still need to run raids that are years old to get the good stuff, with insane attunement/unlocking requirements.

This takes the simpler scheme that World of Warcraft now uses and makes it both simpler and more complicated at the same time.  This therefore gives the player base more options and my gaming outlook is giving more options to the players is almost always better.  I say almost because sometime options can become overwhelming but that is more in the case of table tops and not the usually rigid structure that are most computer/video games.

Part 3 -  Rewards for different levels of Difficulty

The interesting part is at no time in the past has World of Warcraft been in a better place for the rewarding of different levels of difficulty for the same encounter as they are now.

10 & 25 Man - 4 Levels
1025
Level 11N + 35VP2N + 45VP
Level 21N + 70VP4N + 70VP
Level 32N + 70VP5N + 90VP
Level 42H + 70VP5H + 90VP
10 & 25 Man - 5 Levels
1025
Level 11N + 20VP2N + 30VP
Level 21N + 45VP3N + 50VP
Level 31N + 70VP4N + 70VP
Level 42N + 70VP5N + 90VP
Level 52H + 70VP5H + 90VP
10 & 25 Man - 6 Levels
1025
Level 11N + 20VP2N + 30VP
Level 21N + 45VP3N + 50VP
Level 31N + 70VP4N + 70VP
Level 42N + 70VP5N + 90VP
Level 53N + 80VP6N + 110VP
Level 62H + 70VP5H + 90VP

As shown in the table the key to being able to reward multiple levels of difficulty for a boss is the due to the granularity in the VP/JP reward along with the # of actual loot items.  When it was just loot and a badge or 2 it was difficult to balance across more than 2 or 3 different states.  Now that the tokens are point based and each boss now give between 70 and 90 points, these values can be changed based upon the difficulty of the boss.  The real key is where to set the normal or standard level of difficulty.  I place it at Heroic-1 but there is no reason that it has to be there as I showed in the 6 level reward part of the table.

There is still another issue of how do you gear up alts or new players to jump into content after the first tier of an expansion.  However that is a topic unto itself.