Friday, January 21, 2011

Dungeons are Hard? A Response.

I must first start by saying I personally do not believe dungeons are hard.  There were indeed challenging when everyone in the group was item level 329 and none of us had done the encounters before.  They were not impossible, they were just challenging.

Our friendly neighborhood Ghostcrawler made a rather good post here that addressed the whole dungeons are hard argument that has been and continues to be all over the net on every wow related site and the topic of choice on the main wow forums.

There are usually two sides to the argument.  The, they are too hard side and the, learn to play side.  They are both right.  They are indeed to hard.  When you are with a group that does not know what they are doing they are amazingly hard.  Sometimes even with a capable group they can be hard. (bad connection, undergeared, etc) What changes it from being hard is a learn to play issue.

Example.  First boss in GB heroic.  I wiped on it five time in the first group I was in.  It broke up.  A couple of days later I wiped on it three more times before the group gave up.  It was just too damn hard.  The next day I went with a guild tank that was on the PTR and he told me, just trap the purple guy and this will be easy, he never respawns if he is not killed.  Wow, I did not know he could be trapped.  Guess what, I just had my learn to play moment.

So I trapped the guy and guess what.  We wiped two more times because the healer died to the blitz both times.  I guess it was the healers turn to have his learn to play moment.

The healer left because "you are taking too much damage, I can't heal you thought it." and just dropped.  I wish he had stayed for a second so I could have responded.  Yeah, it is really hard to heal when you are always face first in the pavement because you refuse to move.

We got another healer that, guess what, didn't know how to play either.  The tank asked them, do you know the fight and the healer said, yes, just move from the charge.  Healer still got hit by it, not once, not twice, but three times before they dropped.

Next healer must have had their learn to play moment in a previous run because they came in and we one shot it.  I trapped the mob (which I learned from my learn to play moment) and the healer and everyone else moved from the blitz.

So that is how heroics are both hard and also a learn to play moment.  They are hard until you learn the do them.  There is nothing actively difficult about side stepping the blitz and there is nothing amazing difficult about trapping the purple guy.  Yes, I understand some groups will not have a trap, which is the best CC in the world for that, but the concept is still the same.

Ghostcrawler goes into the idea that they want heroics to be a challenge, and they are at first and I really like(d) that.  What Ghostcrawler and the rest of the Blizzard development staff does not seem to understand however is there is a thin line between challenging and annoying.  That thin line usually is in direct correlation to the even thinner line between the skill levels of each and every player that plays the game.

It was challenging when I was first learning the fights.  It was even great fun when I was learning them with my guild.  So Blizzard hit the nail on the head there.  They made heroics both challenging and fun.  For a very short time.

In no time my main was heroic geared and really had no reason to run heroics any more outside of doing my daily.  The daily is basically just the standard grind that the game promotes.  (more on that later)  So I am now running my other characters through the same thing.  I have available at the moment at 85 1 tank, 3 healers, one with 2 healing specs, 2 melee dps, one with 2 specs that I would also like to gear up.

My main logs on and enters the queue and goes to do my TB dailies.  Usually by the time I am done the queue pops and I do my heroic daily on my main alone.  I do not run it with guild because I do my guild runs with one of those other characters that actually needs the gear now.  They are still learning their role, so I keep them in guild runs whereas my main knows exactly what to do in every fight based on how his class can handle it.

This is where the problem in Blizzards design, and what Ghostcrawler apparently did not understand, comes into play.  I am doing heroics that I have now done many times each in dungeons that are bland, boring, and take way to long.  I had my fun learning them.  Now I am there to get my 70 valor points and move on with my game playing experience.  Anything more then a LK 15 minutes, just do it dungeon, is extraneous.

Running into people that are still learning the fights is no fun at all.  I did not mind wiping while learning.  I learned, I do not want to wipe any more.  Also, I do not have any control over the situation any more for various reasons. 

With guild I know the fights so I explain them on vent.  This is 1000 times easier then typing them out.  Not to mention I can yell on vent "get out of the fire" whereas in a pug if I stop to yell "get out of the fire" it might 1) get my kicked because I am sounding elitist, 2) get ignored because the person doesn't realize I am talking to them, 3) get ignored because they are uber and the healer should just heal them through it, 4) just someone that is not capable of learning, 5) takes always from my doing my job by taking time to type out every time someone does something wrong.

It might be fun for them, still learning it, but I paid my dues.  I do not want to wipe any more.  There is no reason to be wiping on trivial things that I figured out how to do the week the game came out. 

There are many learning curves that Blizzard over looked.  One is the fact that the person I am running with might have just hit heroic geared for the first time.  It is absolutely fine for them to be learning a fight.  However, it turns fun into annoyance for anyone that already knows the fights.  Making heroics easier would make them more fun because then I would not have to suffer wipe after wipe because of people that just leveled slower then I did.  Why should them leveling slower then me directly impact my enjoyment of the game?

There is also the learning curve that I mentioned before.  I was told to trap and I trapped.  I used a distracting shot and laid the trap at my feet.  That is how it is supposed to be done.  It keeps the mob away from any possible AoE and is easy for me to retrap being it is not in the middle of everything. 

While on my healer I have seen hunters try to shoot trap it.  I have seen hunters trap it in the middle of a pack only to be broken instantly.  You see, the learning curve for me was 1 try, for other hunters, it might take a while.  Telling me to trap the purple guy got it trapped in the perfect position the first time because I am (or like to consider myself) a good hunter. Just because I consider myself a good hunter does not mean that I have any more right to be doing heroics then the bad ones.  The bad ones have just as much right to be in the heroic and it is their time to learn now.

Blizzard has the right idea, in my mind, of what is challenging and fun for dungeons.  The problem is.  Not everyone is me.  Not everyone knows the fights already.  Not everyone is capable of performing at the level they need to in their efforts to get the encounter down.

Because of that fact dungeons are no longer fun.  They have been no longer challenging for a month already.  Once you master the challenge something is no longer challenging.  Now it is no longer fun either because of the length of time it takes and all the others that fail continually on it.

I remember Fester 25 in ICC.  First time there we wiped, wiped and wiped some more.  It seemed impossible to ever get it down.  We where doing everything we where supposed to, or so we thought.  It was downright frustrating.  However, one attempt, our last for the night as it would be, it all clicked.  We downed the sucker with ease.  No one died and it was a thing of beauty.  It looked like we had been doing it forever.  After that point we never wiped on it again.  Even if it was with 10 of the 25 people being new people.  Sometimes just clicked.

If we continued to wipe on it over and over like that every time we where in there then it would have turned from fun into annoying really fast.  That is where heroics are now. 

Running with the pugs is like that.  You end up wiping over and over on things you already paid your dues on.  You already had your 60g repair bills three times in one run.  Why the hell do I have to still go through that?  This is why heroics need to be more forgiving.  Not easier, just more forgiving. 

Slow tanks with slow connections that can not move from avoidable 125K damage spikes turn what could be an easy run into a nightmare.  Even more so if you are the poor healer that needs to heal that.  There is no need for damage like that in a heroic at all.  This is not a raid.  These are not your top level players.  Those people raid, these are pug people, heroic heroes, casuals, etc.  There do not need to be any mechanics that are one shot and your dead mechanics in heroics. 

Heroics are for people of all types.  From the elitist to the bad player and everything in between.  There are many people that just happen to have contention issues.  They are not bad players at all but if their connection lags for even a split second when they need to move, or interrupt or whatever it may be, it wipes the entire group.  Any mechanic like that need to be really cut down in heroics.

Not because it is hard.  It is not hard.  But because not everyone was done with all the heroics a month ago like I was or even have a solid connection that allows the movement that is needed in an instant on some of the fights.  Heroics need to be more forgiving so people like myself do not need to go through someone else's challenging and fun learning process.  I've been there, I've done that, let me just get my valor points and move along.

I have yet to heal a heroic (with success) on my Shaman.  She is getting close I think but is still 2 blues away from really being ready for it.  I think for me it is still a learn to play issue and I am learning.  I do not bring her into heroics on random at all.  Do you know why?  Because I am still learning and I am still gearing.  Just because she has a 336 item level does not mean she can heal.  Heck, most of the good gear is from the enhancement spec and not the restoration spec. 

The thing is, most people are not like that Blizzard.  Do you hear me?  Ghostcrawler said that anyone that knows that things in their bag are being counted into their item level are smart enough to know they are not ready for the heroics.  I have a question for Ghostcrawler and would love to get an answer from him.  WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SMOKING?

As soon as people noticed that having things in their bag made their gear score go up they were buying cheap things with high item levels to put in their bags.  They were rolling need on items just so they would be in their bags so they could get their item level up.  They were getting PvP gear just for the item level.  As soon as people knew there was a way to cheat the system they, in droves, went out of their way to cheat the system.  If Ghostcrawler did not foresee this happening apparently he does not play the game and contrary to what they say, neither does anyone else on the development team.

People like this are the rule Ghostcrawler, not the exception.  Most people will cheat the system to get into heroics so they can get the heroic gear.  I don't bring my Shaman because I do not feel I can contribute.  I am the exception.  Most people would run into a heroic and then blame everyone else for the group failing when they know it was their own personal lack of gear/ability/knowledge that was the cause of the failure.

I've run with enough agility wearing boomkins, dps wearing tanks, strength wearing rogues and hunters, to know that given the chance to get into a heroic by faking a few items, most people will take it.  They figure they will replace it with the heroic version.  Why waste time farming the normals for it when you are only going to get the heroic version of it anyway.  Just jump into the heroic and get it.

That is a common thought.  Heck, I've even been guilty of it.  I passed on an item to a guild mate because I was heroic ready and they where not.  The item would have been an upgrade for me but I figured, I will just get the heroic version later and they were still gearing up.

It is people like that, the ones who put the work on the shoulders of everyone around them, that make some heroics actually very difficult and extremely annoying.  Either remove the way for them to cheat their way in or make heroics easier.  They are going to come in anyway and I should not have to be subject to failure because you where too stupid in the development phase to realize that people would cheat the system.

This connects to my next point directly too.  Those people with a few pieces of gear that are not ideal do not know they are bad players.  Everyone, even the boomkin that was doing 2500 in a heroic I was in or the mage that was doing 3500 in another, thought they where doing just fine.  Do not allow people to judge for themselves.  Do not fall back on the idea that people will know they are not ready for heroics.  You really do not play this game if you think people will own up to the fact they suck.

I suck on my rogue.  I am willing to say that openly.  We noted the point earlier that I am the exception.  I am not the rule.  I've had people I pugged with a kingslayer title back before cataclysm came out telling me how they downed the LK within a month of its release and they could still not pull 5K DPS with the 30% buff.  They think they are good players.  They do not realize that they suck and they where carried and god forbid you point that out to them.  You will never hear the end of their stories of how awesome they are and that they can play a "whatever class you are" so much better then you could ever dream to. 

Remember these rules.  Most players sucks.  Most players that suck will gladly tell you how great they are.  Most of them are the ones that are on the forums telling everyone that has problems to learn to play, quit and that they suck.  Good players do not participate on the wow forums.  You do the math here.  If good players do not post on the general forums and all these people are saying other suck, what does that mean about them?

People do not realize how bad they really are.  Being a raid leader has taught me a little bit about assessing skill and every thing I am in, guild or pug, without even thinking, I am always assessing people.

More so in these heroics lately.  So much crap on the floor to avoid that finding the bad players really takes no effort.  When asked, these people will, 99 out of 100 times, not realize that they are bad.  They will say, I moved from it and take pride in the fact that they moved from it.  They won't however admit that they saw the effect coming for them 2 seconds before hand and could have moved 2 seconds earlier and avoided it completely.  They will tell you that they are a good player because they moved from it.

So Mr. Ghostcrawler, while reading the forums and hearing everyone tell you how great they are, as it seems everyone that posts on the forums is great, you have to take it with a grain of salt.  Most, and I am willing to wager somewhere in the area of 92%-94% of the wow player base that posts on the forums is average at best. 

With the thought that most people are average and like the person I mentioned before that moved from the bad stuff after it lands you have to make sure to design for people that will not move before it comes.  That player is average.  They know enough to move from the bad but are not quite smart enough to move before it comes.  That is the difference between a good player and an average player.

The heroic dungeons are designed with the good player in mind.  Being there are so few good players, you really need to tone the dungeons down some for the greater masses to have enjoyable access to them.

Oh, and as a note here for all those people that got the achievement for getting all the heroics done in week one and getting all the drake achievements done in week one.  Getting those does not mean you are a good player.  It just means you have a nice guild to work with.  That's all. 5 average people together that always run together will always over perform because they are comfortable with the people around them.

Now to the grind.  Any RPG designer worth their salt knows that the grind is the key to success in any game.  Final Fantasy, single player game, became one of the most revered games of all time in the RPG genre because they mastered the grind.  You where even able to grind past what we required to play the game.  Can beat the last boss at 55, but grind to 99 and cake walk it?  Yeap, they had that.  Can farm seemingly endlessly for things needed to increase your characters potential?  Yeap, they had that.  Lots of side games you could do that were fun but of limited use? Yeap, they had that.

They built the perfect design.  A game where you, the person playing, decided your own level of difficulty. People would try to beat it at the lowest level possible for a challenge.  Without using magic, for a challenge.  With only one character, for a challenge.  If you were not a good player you could grind out more levels to get stronger.  You could go get all the ultimate weapons to make it easier.  You could, in a sense, make the game effortless if you were willing to put the time and effort into the game.

The grind is what gets people addicted to the game.  The grind is the reason I did the baron run a million times trying to get that stupid mount.  It was not hard but it was something that with effort there was a possible reward.  That is what keeps people playing a game.  That is what gets people addicted to the game.  Having something to aim for that, given enough grinding, is attainable.

We grind to 85, to get to end game.  We grind rep to get some good items.  We grind normals for gear and rep to get more items.  We grind TB dailies for trinkets or mounts.  We grind battlegounds for PvP gear.  We grind leveling professions to make things.  We grind making gold to buy things. There are many things in the game we grind but without doubt the biggest grind is the gear grind.

Everyone wants to raid, good, bad, doesn't make a difference, even the most casual of causal players would love to get invited to a raid even if they can only stay for 30 minutes.  To get invited you need to have the bare minimum.  Good gear from reps, crafting, heroics, what have you.

You can do the crafting grind yourself.  You can even grind to make gold to buy the craftables yourself.  You can grind rep yourself, some of them at least, with dailies.  You can get a group for normals a lot easier then heroics and it be a success.  Getting a group for heroics is where Blizzard lost it's way in the grind.

Heroics are part of the grind.  They drop gear and they give valor points and rep if you have a tabard.  At that, they are the largest part of the grind.  Heroics are needed by everyone in the game to finish the grind.  The one difference here is that for this part of the grind you can not do it yourself.  You need 4 other people to grind with you.

That is where the problem comes.  People get addicted to the grind.  That is what keeps them coming back.  That is what keeps them paying for a subscription.  That pays your salary Mr. Ghostcrawler.

When heroics are as they are you are making 4 people have an effect on MY grind.  Part of my grind is to get valor points now.  I do not need any gear from heroics any more.  Have not for a while.  I can get the rep over time other places so I do not need to go there.  I do need my valor as part of my grind.  Part of my addiction to the game.  Even if there is nothing for me to buy with them I need them.  That is the addiction to the game.  That is what keeps people coming back.

Heroics, the way they are, are effectively removing one part of the grind from the game because it is extremely time consuming sometimes and its success revolves around 4 other people with questionable skill levels.  This is why so many people are complaining.  This is way so many people are quitting.  This is why subscriptions are down and being canceled left and right.

You built the system of the grind and then effectively said, we are not going to allow the average player to grind.  Do you remember the fact that 92%-94% of the population of the game is average.  So you are effectively telling most of your player base they can not do that part of the grind.  If you are not capable of doing the part of the game that you are addicted to doing, it weens you off the addiction on its own sooner or later.

How many times have you played a game, any game, and were really into it.  Invested a long time in it.  Then you hit a brick wall and could not get past it.  You would try, over and over, and sooner or later give up.  No matter how much you liked the game.  You reached a point you gave up.

That is what heroics are except that they are worse.  You could be a great player but just not have all that time to invest.  You could be a great player with a bad connection.  You could be a great player that does not have a guild to run with.  You could be a great player placed in with 4 less then exceptional third graders.

You are letting the players of the game hit a wall that you designed to be destined for failure.  Allowing people to cheat the system and get into heroics when they have no business to be in them.  Allowing mechanics that will eat anyone up that does not have a solid connection and good reaction skills.  Allowing DPS to join as tanks or healers when they are not. 

You created the last step of the grind, the one that will keep people addicted even if they do not get into raiding because they will always have new things to spend those points on as new raids (even if they do not get into them) come out and old valor items become justice items, to be a step that is impossible for some people to complete.  When you reach that point in a game where you can not get any further sooner or later you just give up.  You notice I mentioned that before?  Yeah, that is what will happen here.

You need to make the grind more of a final fantasy type grind.  A grind that you make the game how easy or difficult as you want it to me.  You have done that once before.  It is called Ulduar.  That is where the game should be, the end grind.  Not dying over and over in heroics because you got suck with people that are behind the learning curve with you.

The reason Ulduar was the absolute perfect grind is because it was a design based on the final fantasy method of making it as difficult as you want it to be with hard mode.  More importantly, many levels of hard modes.

Check out the many levels of difficulty just on the first boss.

1 Tower up, 2 towers up, 3 towers up, 4 towers up.  Not just that.  Do it in all 200 gear for more levels. 200s with 1, 200s with 2, 200s with 3, 200s with 4. How about all 187 gear.  Mix and match gear levels with towers up and you can create a myriad of different difficultly scenarios.

You see the final fantasy design there.  You make it as difficult as you want or as easy as you want.  How many times have you had your raid leader say put on your highest level gear even if it is not right for your spec.  It makes your machine stronger.  Well, that was you making it easier for your team.

Ulduar was the perfect design.  Every boss has it's own slide bar for difficulty. 

You do notice that Ulduar is not a heroic right?  5 mans are not meant to be the end game, they are meant to be a gateway to the end game.  The endgame is raiding.  Raiding should have a difficulty adjustment like ulduar did.  Heroics should be just another part of the grind to get there.

Sadly, Mr. Ghostcrawler, you and your development team not only screwed the pooch when it came to heroics but you still have not managed to recapture the greatness that is the design of Ulduar.

You can fix it all if you wanted.  Just lower the damage in heroics and everything is fine.  No need to change the mechanics, they are fine.  They will help people learn.  Just make it so damage is not coming from all over all the time in huge amounts.  Healers will start to enjoy the game again because they will not be ripping their hair out any more.  People will stop calling others names (as much) because they took 1 second to long to get out of the fire.  It would greatly increase the attitude of the community if everyone wasn't calling everyone else names all the time.  The mechanics would be the same and failing them too often would still kill people. 

The only thing that would really change is that people will not be so brutally punished for screwing up.  It would also mean that the grind would then be more reasonable to continue, making people happy and still controlled by their addiction.  It will also mean those people that cheat your item level thing will not be as much of a hindrance to the group. The life totals would still be the same so you would still need DPS to take them down and the mechanics will still (hopefully) teach them about what will kill them in a raid.

So, while Ghostcrawler wrote a nice little article he did what all businessmen do.  He tap danced around the subject to try and make everyone he could happy and in the end said basically nothing. Next time you plan to post oh great crabish one, try working on fixing the problem instead of just talking about it.

Nah, fixing it would never work.  Who am I kidding.

The grind, the thing that feeds the addiction... that is what Cataclysm is missing in my opinion.  I knew this expansion did not feel good and it took me a while to place why that was.  It is the grind.  The grind is gone.  Once the grind is done, the addiction fades.  Cataclysm has no grind worth grinding.  That is what it is missing.

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