On his own blog, my lone commentor Ixobelle issued a challenge to the blogosphere: design your own raid encounter. If you don't like how things are, show how you can do them better.
Since I work better when I have a laser-like focus, I'm dividing my response into 2 or 3 parts. Each will get their own post.
Phase 1: The Awesomeing
"It doesn't have to be terribly complicated. I think the initial problem is that people immediately WANT to make it some huge event where you need to push levers or everyone needs to be involved in something extravagant to make it enjoyable. Let's take a look at a few (varied) examples."
Though I'm not intending to make it terribly complicated, I have a feeling that Ixo isn't going to like The Awesomeing. I have a feeling he's going to prefer my second entry, "Dale the Game Mechanic".
You see, for me raid encounters have two key aspects:
- The game mechanics
- The wrappings (set pieces, events, graphics/sounds, characters...basically, the "coolness factor")
You can have the best game mechanics in the world, but if your fighting a gray box in a plain room, your raid isn't going to hold my interest. Now, if you replace that with a rotating observatory inhabited by an awesome vampire werewolf, suddenly you've piqued my interest.
So what I'm going to do today is focus mostly on awesomeizing my encounter. I'm going to try to make the game mechanics as interesting as possible, but not focus on that aspect. Tomorrow, I'll try to make the most interesting raid to play I can think of using generic window dressings. Then, I will most likely combine both approaches into one final encounter that balances both interests. But I thought it would be a fun exercise to first look at coolness factor on it's own, and then look at game mechanics on their own before creating a balanced encounter.
You'll find that, by the end, I simply prove Ixo right.
--------Yogg Saron vs. the World: THE AWESOMEING-------------------
Game-mechanic-wise, I first looked at what I think needs the most fixing about current WoW raids. They need to require skill and personal responsibility, but not be over-taxing nor over-punishing. There will be no decursing (annoying!) and no void zones that instantly kill you (frustrating to completely die because you made on small mistake!). In fact, there will likely not be either of those in any encounter I design unless I build the entire encounter around them just to be a dick.
I also want the encounter to be flexible. If your raid has 2 tanks, that's cool. If your raid has only 1 real tank, that's cool too.
So let's set the stage: your raid flies in or is summoned to a stone just outside your faction's camp. The horde and alliance front lines stand beside each other, fighting a constantly-raging battle in front of a massive Titan tower, which appears to be corrupts and ovverun by inky black tendrills and other Lovecraftian horrors. A group of Azeroth's mightiest heroes gather in the space between the camps. Present are Thrall, Jaina, Tirion Fordring (the Ashbringer), Mograine (the leader of the Ebon Blade), and Sylvanas. Seeing that your group has arrived, they summon a hired goblin engineer to hand out an item you'll need for the upcoming battle: a pair of goblin rocket boots.
Once you are equipped, Thrall and Tirion shout some brief, but stirring words, then the horde and alliance shoulders charge forward, cutting a swath through the advancing faceless ones and opening up a hole to allow your raid, accompanied by the heroes, to run into the tower.
Inside the tower are 5 teleportation pads. A hero stands on each one, and you must split your raid into either pairs or sets of 5 (depending on raid size). Once you are ready, the pads teleport each group to a separate section of the room at the top of the tower.
The boss is a shadowy monster, using some awesome visual effects, with many creepy tentacles and toothy maws. Yogg Saron sits in 5 pieces, one in each walled-off room. Each pieces isn't super-hard, but will have a random special ability. They will be manageable no matter how you broke up your group: 2 dps can take one out just as well as a tank/healer pair, especially considering that each groups is aided by a powerful NPC hero. This part enforces individual contribution. If one or two of your raiders are really bad, you aren't getting past phase 1.
Once all 5 pieces are defeated. Massive amounts of energy are unleashed, destroying all of the walls to the top floor as well as the ceiling, leaving your raid standing on a cracked platform with low, jagged walls (about 15 feet high) surrounded by nothing but dramatically-colored sky. Throughout this phase, an airship approaches in the sky, and circles the tower, bombarding the raid periodically. On the bright side, the platform is very large.The pieces come together and slowly start forming a whole. The heroes and raid attack. Every few seconds, the boss will use telekenisis to randomly lift and throw a raid member away. You can use the gnomish rocket boots to boost yourself back to the fight. If you fail to do so, your only penalty is a small amount of fall damage and the lost time as you run back to the fight. The boss does 4 other attacks, each corresponding to one limb. One will be a cone of raw aoe damage in front of him. One will be a shield that requires the raid to stop dps for a moment. One of them causes him to need to be moved around by the tank (an aoe damage zone, or something like the sparks from Malygos). One tentacle will shoot into the ground, then give some warning before popping out of the ground under a player. This is meant to prevent players from getting tunnel vision, and functions like a void zone. It just doesn't one-shot you, instead simply doing minor damage and taking you out of the fight for a few seconds.The specific abilities aren’t important, just that they have variety and cool factor without being annoying or unduly punishing one group, such as melee.
At 40% health, it calls in a literal army of minions to protect itself. At first your group helps, but soon the monster tries to make an escape on the airship. Jaina teleports your raid and Thrall up onto the airship, while she and the other heroes remain behind, holding back the army in an attempt protect the remaining horde and alliance troops.
On the airship, you battle the boss, who has shadowy mind-powers. Without the damage of the heroes, the health of the boss drops a lot more slowly. At 20% health, he’ll do a desperate mental attack that makes each raider phase into a shadow realm where they fight an image of themselves (their own personal demons) individually. This works a lot like the last fight in the AK 5 man instance.
After that, when the boss is at 10%, he’ll get even more desperate and say “if I’m going down, I’m taking you with me!” The airship will shatter, and everyone will begin to fall. Thrall will summon wind to slow our fall, and we must continue the fight against the boss while in free-fall. After about a minute, we’ll hit the water. Thrall’s wind will help us, but if we don’t use our rocket boots at the right time, we take some fall damage. Thrall will then freeze the water immediately under the group, so we fight the boss on a platform of ice, and have to swim back when he throws us. Thrall will periodically summon tidal waves to batter the boss, and in order to avoid collateral damage the raid must dive under the water at the right time.
The boss dying has to be a HUGE setpiece. Thunder, flashes of light, the sky going dark, shockwaves, the whole 9 yards.
So, each member of your raid must contribute to pass the first phase. Then, there's personal responsibility, particularly with the rocket boots. But, mistakes don't cause a wipe, and instead just reduce your group's effectiveness by taking the failing players out of the fight temporarily. Melee are not unduly punished, and neither are healers, who have constant minor raid damage to fix, but nothing as demanding as KT's Ice Blocks, etc.
But the bottom line is that the fight is awesome. It includes Azeroth's greatest heroes, a great-looking and lore-rich enemy and fighting environment, and some exciting changes of set pieces, including a section of the fight done completely in free-fall! Seriously, I dare you to beat the combination of rocket boots, airships, old gods, lore heroes, free-falling, and tidal waves for coolness factor. This was basically the most over-the-top fanservice encounter I could possibly imagine. But overall, as a raid encounter, is it the best I can do?
It's too much of a slave to it's own coolness. Does it really make actually playing the fight more fun to combine 5 different fighting environments? Do we really need all those heroes? In the end, the game mechanics suffer because I wanted the most epic feel I could get. I like some of the game mechanics I came up with for this, but I think the encounter could be a lot tighter.
So tomorrow, I'll experiment with designing an encounter that focuses solely on a fun, rewarding, and novel gameplay experience, without concerning myself with whether or not it's awesome.
We'll see how that works out.