Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sirlin on 10-man raiding and me on 2-player dungeons

I've been following David Sirlin, game designer and competitive fighting gamer, for a few years now, and been a fan of his ideas on playing to win and Yomi layers (read or buy his book). He disappeared for a while doing game balancing for SF2 HD Remix, but he came back and revamped his blog with more content. I was catching up with him recently, and ran across a post from nearly a year ago where he talks about the reward structure for the different levels of WoW raiding. He's on the same wavelength as I've been here on this blog, to the point that it's kind of creepy. You can read his post here, and I highly recommend you check out the rest of his blog and his book too, scrubs.

I'd also love to do some 2-person dungeon challenges with my girlfriend. Listen please, Blizz!

I think there is a massive market out there for just such a product. Tons of people play with their significant others, and would love dungeons that allowed them to take the challenges on together. Some of my best memories from WoW are from levelling together with my girlfriend and using clever strategy and teamwork to 2-man quests that were meant for 5. You can't really 2-man level-appropriate 5-man dungeons, because they are tuned to tightly and are too relentless.

So creating 2-person dungeons would use a lot of time and resources, but they would be justified by the demand. Imagine the new income stream you could open up if WoW became even more of a game known for giving couples (or close platonic friends!) a way to play together and share the gaming hobby in a way that interests them both? And allows for casual, bite-sized play in a way that raids don't?

The other objection I've heard is that these would be very difficult to balance. I think that's true, and I think it would be a giant mistake to balance the classes around 2-person situations. But it would be easy and simple to work around by designing the 2-person dungeon system around this limitation.


First, we reduce the importance of razor-sharp balance by making the rewards have no statistical consequence to the rest of the game. That means no phat epix. But let's face it: without rewards on offer, players will select alternate activities that do provide rewards. So the rewards need to be desirable, but not impart a combat advantage.

I think the best system would be to have the bosses in these instances drop tokens, which can be redeemed at vendors in the same vein as the current emblems. You can also make the bosses more exciting by having them drop items that offer monetary rewards. Have the rewards escalate as you progress through the dungeon: the first boss drops 1 token, a green item, and a few green gems, while the 3rd boss drops 3 tokens, 2 green items with a chance at a random blue, a blue gem, and a lockbox. This makes the whole thing more fun, while only giving a small monetary reward to those who find ways to exploit it or blast through it. It keeps class balance from coming under a microscope, especially if the rate the average pair clears the place doesn't offer as much money as simple daily quest grinding.

But these guy should NOT drop emblems of heroism. Instead, they drop a separate token, let's call it an Emblem of the Dyad. ED's (heh heh) can be redeemed for either vanity items or goods with monetary value. They cannot be exchanged for gear of any kind. Instead, you can choose from a selection of vanity pets, fun RP clothing, tabards, items that go in the shirt slot that imbue a visual effect (either a clickable use with a cooldown for a cool visual flair, or a constant visual effect such as sparks, snowflakes, or stars around the character model) and even an expensive mount (that allows one passenger, natch!). Maybe even a title ([name] of the Dou? Dynamic [name]?)! Sure, some might not be interested in these things. But lots of players are! I'm confident these would be enough to make a lot of the playerbase who would enjoy this type of gameplay to feel like they aren't wasting their time by duoing these dungeons. And for those who have no vanity, they can use ED's to buy gems or "surprise gift boxes" which contain random BoE greens with a good chance at a blue or a small chance at an epic.

Now we've reduced the need for perfect balance, and provided motivating rewards. Now we just have to design the dungeons so they are fun while not being too easy to exploit.

To limit the advantages of exploiting, limit each separate 2-person dungeon to one visit a day, just as heroics are. And limit total daily 2-person dungeon visits to 3. That way even if someone discovers an exploit, they won't be able to take much advantage of it, especially if that exploit is limited to only one of the dungeons.

Next, deal with the fact that some classes are healing, some dps, some tanks, and some hybrids. We'll have to design the instances so they can be completed by virtually any pair: 2 tanks or healers could clear them (albeit very slowly), as would a tank/healer pair. Most groups will be either a tank/dps or healer/dps, which would probably have the most conventional strategies. And then you have dps/dps pairs.

All classes have personal defenses, whether these be CC, self-healing, or clickable defensive cooldowns. A pair of 2 dpsers would have to trade aggro on the mobs. Burn your defensive cooldowns, then use cower/feint/feign death/invisibility/soulshatter/wind shock/fade/DP to give aggro to your partner, who then uses her own defensive abilities while you finish off the target together. All classes that don't have aggro drops have taunts, so just have your partner go first, then you taunt off of her when needed.

Then just balance the damage and health of the mobs around that gameplay style. All other styles will just be slower but safer versions of that.

Also, take a page from the Wrath design book and have one section or boss of each instance rely on a vehicle or some other mechanic that makes that section essentially a skill-based minigame rather than based on gear or ability to play your classes or what class makeup you had to bring. This would open the door for a lot of really creative boss and enemy designs if you are no longer constrained to the assumption of there being a tank, dps, and a healer present.

Finally, have the loading screen for 2-player dungeons and any quests that lead up to them provide a bit of a tutorial for people new to the concept and how different it is from traditional grouping. Some text about how any pair can clear these dungeons with good use of CC and by using aggro-dropping or taunt moves to spread the damage out, then eating/drinking in between fights would be a good start.

I think 2-player dungeons would be really fun challenges, and aren't all that hard to implement if you keep the rewards limited to vanity/cash and tailor the instances to the classes rather than the other way around.


Ixobelle said...

you kinda shot yourself in the foot there I think..

The Sirlin article was awesome, and points to the obvious deficiency that you yourself have echoed: it's folish to have 10 man loot a lower tier than 25 man.

and yet... you go on to say '2 man loot should just be vanity pets and clickable tabards'.

while it's be cute to run a two man with your gf, nobody but couples with noob gfs would bother. that, or they'd feel like they HAVE to farm it for the pig pet, and then they're done with that content.

I'll admit I've been on the fence with the 10/25 loot disparity thing, but a lot of good points are made. there's NO reason why naxx shouldn't just drop naxx gear. With 25 in the raid, it's more likely that ONE person will die to hiegan, but that doesn't make heigan any harder. I think there are a few examples where having less people is beneficial, but there are equally *other* fights where more is better.

it evens out.

2 man dungeons are too weird to implement because of our reliance on the trinity. I could see 3 mans, easily, but 2...? dps/dps just plays too differently from healer/X to be balanced effectively. tank/tank? healer/healer?

with 3 mans, you could choose to dps/dps/dps and take a whack, but you'd be the exception to the rule (achievement: bring no class with a heal button, regardless of spec? that wouldn't fly...)

i think, honestly, that the 10 and 25 flavors of content are spreading content too thin. I like that SSC was 25, and kara was the 10. I'd prefer to see more 10 and less 25, but have them be exclusively tuned to the exact number...

Hatch said...

First, of all, my girlfriend is not a noob, thank you very much. :P

She was one of the two healers in our 8 man group that cleared naxx 10 on wednesday and came within seconds of getting undying (still with 8 people). No one died on any boss the entire run until KT, and it was GF who died because she got ice blocked and the other healer didn't save her in time. She saved everyone else who got ice blocked that run.

I don't blame you for the assumption, though, because 99% of player's girlfriends are noobs who are only there to tag along with their boyfriend. It's a constant source of fury for my GF that other girls have a tendency to be bad at wow (I know many girls who are excellent, so it's far from universal), and everyone seems to stereotype against her as a bad player or not knowledgable because she has ovaries instead of testes.

One of the reasons she's my GF is because she's always been as into games as me, and knows what she is doing. :)


Anyway, I see what you are saying, but I think there is genuine interest out there for this type of content. Any reward system will have the same problems: no one bothering with a reward they don't want, and people who want it feeling like they "have" to go get it. Same with epics. I went with vanity shit because a) I love that stuff and know a lot of great players (and crappy ones) who do, b) balance doesn't go under a microscope because joe noob or jane exploiter can't cheese the 2-mans to epics, so no one cares how balanced they are, and c) People at all gear levels would have a reason to run it.

Yeah, the reliance on the trinity is a stumbling block, but I was excited about trying something that moved away from that because it asks your character to use the full suite of your abilities on every fight. In raids, my rogue doesn't even stealth. I just hit 2 4 times, hit 3, hit 2 5 times again, then hit 4, repeat. I have a lot of buttons that never get used because soloing is too easy and I don't need them in groups when I've got a healer and tank taking care of those aspects for me.

As for the 10/25 thing I disagree with you because I like that both options exist for every dungeon. It sucked when a 25 man guild had to shoehorn their members into 2-3 Kara or ZA groups (or run one elite group and let everyone else fuck themselves), and it sucked when a 10-man guild never got to see the inside of SSC/TK as a guild, let alone BT. There are tuning problems, sure, but I see that as the lesser of two evils.