Tuesday, May 26, 2009

World of Warcraft VR Missions

Hatch has a post up, that points to a post by Spinks, which expounds on a shelf life for MMOs (well, games in general, I suppose). He laments "...a big factor might be that it seems like the game's best days are behind it, and there isn't that much to look forward to... It feels like we are riding out the next 6-10 months so we can be around for the climax, then many more will abandon ship."

There's basically nothing new, which is... well, nothing new.

Stabs chimes in with:

I imagine their plan is something like:

Oct Patch 3.2
Mar Patch 3.3
Oct New Expansion

If they release 3.2 & 3.3 early without being able to move the Expansion forward it just creates a very long dry zone next year.

...which seems to tie in pretty well with the whole system Blizzard has going, with 'Major Content Patches' (think: An'Qiraj, Zul'Aman). Stuff that isn't an expansion, but is something to chew on until the next one rolls around.

Some people like this system (although they're getting harder to find recently), as it's basically extra 'free' content that you get for just subscribing, and don't need to buy an extra expansion for. But think about it... Wrath has introduced what? A new, tiny continent (compared to vanilla WoW, let's not lie) with the accompanying 5 mans, a reissue of a dungeon that was already built, and now finally Ulduar. And that jousting thing. Content takes so LONG to create, and is so quick to burn through, that this may be one of the major cockblocks WoW is creating for itself. Their art department is too good, and holds itself to too high of a standard.

I know I PERSONALLY look around at the architecture of a dungeon, panning my camera to look up at the arching ceilings above Saphiron, and trying to figure out if the INTERIOR of Karazhan actually works compared to what you see from the outside, or if you just zone in the front door, and then they just make shit up as they go. I'm pretty sure it's the latter, but could be wrong. Think about Naxx for a sec, why is the thing you zone into so tiny? Is there not enough room in the fucking sky to have Naxx floating there, in real size? I think about crap like this, but I imagine that a majority of the playerbase probably doesn't. They're focused on the fight itself, and everything else could take place in an untextured cube for all they care. They're there for the fight, the challenge of the encounter, not animated slime waterfalls or spooky doodad crates placed hither and thither.

Which reminds me of something I never really understood, until perhaps just today when I thought about it.

Metal Gear Solid had a version that came with an entire disk full of 'VR Training Missions' that I thought was such a complete cop out at the time, and entertained me for perhaps 30 minutes (of controller clutching madness) before I just wrote them off as half assed bullshit thrown on the 2nd disc to punish people with OCD.

For the 8 in the audience that have no idea what I'm talking about, let me give an example.

Here's a screenshot of Solid Snake, sneaking around in some base, searching for Weapons of Mass Whatever:

And now here's a screenshot from a 'VR Mission':

I think these are actually from different versions of Metal Gear, I really have no idea, but you get the idea. The VR missions were Virtual Reality 'encounters' that you needed to 'solve'. Given a narrow hallway, with a small box to hide behind at location Z, and guards patrolling routes X and Y, how do you get from point A to point B? Some missions you're given a weapon with limited ammo, but for the most part, stealth tactics are all that are required to reach the 'goal'.

Then, when you think about the entire Metal Gear series, how is the first screenshot above really that different from the second one? You can see fancier textures on the walls, and propane tanks that are completely un-interactive, but the idea is the exact same... make it from this hallway to the next. After that, there will be a room with various cover to hide behind, and various enemies with various cones of vision that can alert other packs of mobs, etc etc etc, and you suddenly realize there's really no difference at all between the VR missions and the regular game.

Yes, the regular game has lore woven into each encounter, and various NPCs and quest givers from time to time will --oops! Am I talking about WoW here? Basically any game fits this mold, but Metal Gear was just ahead of its time, and was willing to strip any semblance of story or textures away from the core model of what Metal Gear was/is: Getting from point A to point B with various obstacles in your way.

The VR missions are just the Metal Gear version of the X-Men's Danger Room. A training facility to practice certain maneuvers, so that when you get out in the (lore filled, fully textured) real world, you know how to handle situation X.

Now let's switch to WoW. Let's think of say... the Slave Pens? There were three pulls before the 'Lobster Boss' that had Nether Rays that feared, Champions that couldn't be CCed and hit like trucks, and you had patrolling mobs that would link the three pulls if you caught a bad fear without a tremor totem or Fear Ward in place. Is that really so different from a room full of baddies in MGS? The parallel is there, so where am I going with this?

Earlier I said that WoW is kind of shooting itself in the foot by having such high standards. When you think about it, WoW isn't the most cutting edge game on the market, it's just the best executed (and yes, people will argue, blah blah blah). When I think of the garbage that passed for a dungeon in Warhammer (not that game's focus, blah blah blah), and any combat scenario in Free Realms... even situations I found myself in in LotRO (I never actually 'ran an instance' in LotRO), or gated areas in Age of Conan... it was all pretty lackluster compared to something like the Scarlet Cathedral. Even SM isn't the pinnacle of dungeon design, but it beats the pants off any other competitor. We only scoff at it at all in contrast to something like Karazhan. Wailing Caverns sucks compared to Upper Blackrock Spire, but we're talking about the same game, just different areas.

So where do we go? Downwards, apparently.

WoW has it's playerbase. Most of the people playing WoW have been playing for over a year, many since the game released back in the Dark Ages. They know what they want, and what they want is MORE. More variety, and more choices of what to run. Everything is fun the first time through, and stays fun for at least a few runs (excluding Occulus, which sucked without remorse from the starting gun). But after a while it gets tired. You want something new. I still stand behind my original assertion from last October that the best way to spruce up combat would be to give bosses a random pool of abilities to choose from, and you wouldn't know what a boss will do until you pull it.

Barring that, though, why not just have a few select instances that change subtly each week. Move some hallways around, and switch up patrol patterns. Swap out mob packs number 6, 8, and 12 with type Z caster packs instead of melee grunts. Go for simple, but abundant, variations on concepts. This bosses main attack is his whirlwind cleave (hmm... Skadi in UP, Herod in SM Armory, High King Maulgaur, need I go on?), but each week just switch ONE mechanic; now it's random voidzones, next week it's fearing adds... You don't need to turn it into straight VR missions where we're fighting Untextured Cube Boss 75476.v, but recycle the dungeon art and switch a few chairs around, and change the drapes from time to time... would that be enough?

I'm starting to ramble here, and losing a bit of the coherence I had in mind when I started this post... but let me pose a few basic questions:

Would you rather wait for 6 months running ULDUAR OMFG, or would you rather a much simpler (in terms of art) dungeon be released every month? What if it was one dungeon every two months, but the boss mechanics were tweaked slightly every two weeks? What if it WAS just straight VR missions? No new art assets at all, just very simple 'Dire Maul' textured corridors, and don't try and wow us with your leet quest writing skillz. Just give the designers free reign to just test out encounter mechanics and play with mob behaviors? Would that be appealing? I know this one guy with a whole raid dungeon fleshed out with over a dozen unseen fight mechanics. String a few hallways together and let's run that shit! Don't bother wasting 8 weeks on making ceramic pots and crap that don't even break line of sight when hidden behind.

For me, I still enjoy looking around, but a texture can only be 'so fucking awesome' and still just be wallpaper. A doodad in the corner can only be 'so fucking rad' and still just be something that serves no real purpose. I'd prefer to find myself fighting my way thru different SITUATIONS than different flavors of carpeting and throw pillows. I honestly enjoy the combat mechanic and group dynamic more than reading about some night elf I'm supposed to be blah blah blah-ing over.

I think I finally get the VR missions, but I was never horribly good at Metal Gear in the first place, and plus... I was running around alone. Given a DVD full of VR missions I could play Co-op online with 5 buddies with, I'd have a blast.



BFG said...

I get what you're saying I really do, but what you have to understand is that quite a large amount of the playerbase won't have even finished Northrend quests yet, let alone all the dungeons along with Heroic version.

I for example only started playing last summer and play almost every day for at least a couple of hours but I still have only done a couple of the WOTLK dungeons and haven't completed all the quests yet.

Although I've heard you label yourself as a casual player in the past you're really not. You're probably actually in the top 5% of the playerbase in terms of what you've done in game.

If you add new 'content' every few weeks people like me will just get further and further behind the top players and will eventually just give up! I'd like to get to see all the dungeons but by the time I even feel ready to go into Ulduar for the first time it'll probably be old news!

The people complaining about the lack of new content are probably precisely the same people that will be showing off to eveyone how they dinged 80 3 days after the expension came out. Big deal - now you've got nothing to do for 6 months except complain about the lack of new content again (I don't count you in that by that way...)!

Rich said...

and to counter point:

I hear what YOU'RE saying, but i'm not proposing a new dungeon every week. Just a twist on existing dungeons, so when you go in there for the 87th time, it's a little different. You need to pay attention, not just snooze thru it.

The first time you arrived, it would still be new for you, as well.

I've been thinking about this post since putting it up, and think my next one may be an expounded followup to this. HVH run forming up while i'm tabbed out, gotta run ;)

BFG said...

I was paying attention don't worry - I guess I just went a little off-track once I got writing. Having said that though, changing boss encounters so they have random abilities is probably a step too far for the great percentage of players. Making it an 'optional extra' like heroic mode might work, but you have to remember how long you've been playing the game - I consider myself a fairly decent player (of games generally not necessarily WOW) but having only started raiding in the last couple of months I have enough problems staying alive when I know exactly what to expect in later dungeons, let alone throwing random changes in there as well!

Note: Getting bored at work and reading lots of blogs/forums makes some of the points I make in comments kind of run into each other - at least part of what I wrote there was probably in response to some prick on a forum 2 months ago and I didn't have the time to respond to.

Hatch said...

VR missions might not fit into WoW, but I'd love it if they produced things a little faster and reused old art a little bit more. In fact there is tons of old stuff in the game, and it seems like anyone could spend a week retuning and reitemizing Deadmines or SM for level 80 heroic mode. Or opening a Scarlet Onslaught instance in Northrend that just uses old SM assets and current SO architecture.

Randomizing an ability on some bosses would be welcome and is pretty easy, they've already experimented with it. In reg. UP, King Ymiron only breaks some of the boats that give him special abilities, so the fight is slightly different every time. VH gives you different random bosses every time.

Trash packs are also easy enough to figure out that randomizing them a bit doesn't seem like that much work.

These just look like such easy little fixes that could make repetitive stuff a lot more interesting to rerun over and over.

But the other thing that reduces interest is that the rewards are already outclassed by easy raids. We could use something else compelling. Maybe add "loot bags" to final bosses with extra tokens, gems, money, etc. Or maybe have bosses in heroics drop Champion's Seals just like Argent Tournament quests that can be redeemed for vanity rewards. Give the final boss a small chance to drop a valor emblem? There are all kinds of ways you can add incentives to get people back into the older content, and there seem like many ways you can make it less repetitive without too much effort.

Seriously, Blizz, just hire a temp for a month and they could set this all up for you. I know it's just BREAKING THE BANK for you to hire one more fucking guy. :P

I know a dozen knowledgeable people who would love to be paid to do this for you, and could do it quickly.

Brian W. Smith said...

I could be quite content with bosses using different abilities for each new raid id spawned, hell even if it is limited to 4 or 5 different ones it still gives a 25% or 20% chance of seeing the same shit every week.

I can see where BFG is coming from, he's not seen the content, and is still enjoying the game for what it is, but on the other hand many of us have been through the shit they released since day one so often that it becomes less a game of adventure and more of how fast and efficient can we get through this crap so we can get the gear.

The introduction of the hard modes is nice, and we've been moving through em well enough, but it lacks that certain randomness. Once you have the strategy down for the hard mode, its no different then regular mode.

Ixo has it right, we need bosses to have a bag of tricks and give them the ability to pull out a different trick each time you face em. Kind of like how Nefarion was back in BWL, each week you had different dragonkin to deal with. Its too bad they moved away from that design.

Anonymous said...

Indeed a fine idea, Ixo. I believe people have become so reliant on reading forums and watching videos that many don't know how to down a boss anymore without a bloody instruction manual. If something could be done to mix things up, it would be more fun for everyone. Hell, it would make people who complain about things being easy or who get bored from running the same endgame stuff constantly quite a bit happier. A fine idea, sir.

Bob said...

A friend of mine had me try out Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. It was ok, but there was one very interesting aspect to the game. At level 10 my toon learned a spell that "Reduces Experience Gains by 100%"
I asked why anyone would want that debuff on them and I was told that it was so you could stay in low level areas and continue to experience the story. Imagine that in WoW: Twinks could keep running instances for gear without worrying about dinging above their 9. You could stop at level 60 (or 63, 64) and experience the Vanilla WoW endgame as an actual challenge instead of just a few 80's grabbing the achievement points.
This would add so much more playability for alts without much effort on the developers end. We don't need a new dungeon every couple months. As BFG said, most people haven't finished the dungeons that are already available. As a somewhat newer player, in my rush to hit 70 before WotLK hit there were entire zones I never went to in TBC not to mention the instances.
But as far as new instances go, perhaps the idea lies within Blizzard's already proven capability. These were the people who brought us Diablo after all. Randomly generated instance maps anyone?

BFG said...


That was actually an Idea I had the other day while running Blackrock Depths Solo (for the Acheivement naturally). Having got lost a read lots of forums on how to get through it, many people were saying how much they either hated it (too big!) or loved it (why aren;t more instances this big!). Of course a lot of them said they wished there was something just like Blackrock Depths for level 80s.

Why have something 'just liike it'. Why not, rather than have all the work of tuning the old dungeons for heroic mode, just allow players to choose their level. If you're in full Tier 7, either go back and earn tier 3/4 back again (but it only drops if you're at the 'right' level) or make it so your Tier 7 gear scales back to be Tier 4 gear if you choose level 60.

Bish bash bosh - you have umpteen 'new' dungeons and raids to go at all over again - couple that with 'random' boss abilities in the newer content and it keeps everyone busy (along with giving those levelling someone to run dungeons with...).

Khatib said...

I played the shit out of VR missions. Got the top time on all of them, and then when Metal Gear 2 game out, I raped through that game so fast it was kinda sad really. Played the whole thing in like one 12 hour weekend session.

Anywho. VR missions were seriously awesome.

I think you're onto a decent idea for WoW with the minor tweaks thing... but ...meh. I just don't care much for WoW anymore personally... and I think people are either willing to beat their heads into the same content over and over til they get their loot drop, and tweaks won't change that for them, or they're sick of WoW, and minor mob pathing tweaks won't change that for them either.

I do think putting tweaks in so you don't have worthless teammates just zoned out auto-attacking through the whole thing would have been a nice thing to have in all along though. Or putting in a new dungeon that auto generates a map, kinda like Diablo II, and it's a little messier compared to refined places that are very linear from boss to boss, but so what, it'd be interesting.

I don't think anything can save WoW from the cycle it's established though, which is pick up re-subs with an xpac, everyone blows through the content in a month, bangs into it again and again for 2-3 more months to get all the gear drops, then they take a break again for a few months til a major content patch comes out or all the way up until the month before the next xpac. They're just stuck with that because they're all about the $$ these days and it's apparently proven to be the top money maker for them.

Anonymous said...

I would really like it if Blizz did something creative with the old content. There's alot of nice looking places on Azeroth no one will really see.

There's a whole generation of WoW players who never seen Ragnaros spawn, screaming "By Fire be Purged"

I thought I was the only one who thought how the hell Kara fit inside this tiny tower, or Naxx. I just summed it up to Magic

Tesh said...

Interesting. I'm all for mechanics like this that could make a game seem more dynamic and fun to play over the long haul. I'm also all for going back to Vanilla WoW locations and giving level capped characters reasons to go explore.

Then again, I'm completely hostile to the idea that "the game starts at 60/70/80", and would rather make the whole world interesting for players of any level. This might be a good cog in such a machine.

Of course, the question of how to incentivize it has to be addressed, considering the gear-centric design of WoW... but that's just a matter of tuning rewards. That's pretty easy by comparison.