Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gimmicks, Insolence, and Arrogance

Critical QQ points out that many Ulduar raid fights appear to be pretty gimmicky. The fact that the zone's first boss encounter involves players loading themselves into their catapults so they can launch themselves up onto the boss is amusing, but also the very definition of a gimmick.

Today's Daily Heroic Dungeon was the Oculus and I was finally able to complete the Experienced Drake Rider achievement. As I noted the last time I mentioned this dungeon, the final boss is a giant dragon and players need to ride on drakes (using Wrath's vehicle combat interface) to defeat it. There are, loosely speaking, a tanking drake (ruby), a healing drake (emerald), and a damage drake (amber), and players can choose which drakes to ride (i.e. you are not constrained by the makeup of your group when you arrive).

The achievement was for completing the fight as each of the three roles - ironically, each of my three successful groups used a different group setup (RRGBB, RRGGB, and RGGBB). The drakes are relatively simple, as they have to be since players don't get much opportunity to practice on them. Each drake has three abilities (see the wiki for details), and, in general, players will win relatively easily once they figure out what their abilities are for. It can be frustrating since your gear does not help you (indeed you can and arguably should strip naked for the fight, as you gear won't help your drake and will take damage if you die) and you're doing the practice in question on a boss fight, but it's definitely not designed to be overly challenging.

I guess more gimmicks are inevitable, since we're adding 14 raid encounters to the game, and almost all of them have to have an alternate "hard mode" that revolves around NOT taking advantage of a helpful fight gimmick. The only other way of increasing difficulty is to ramp up the raw damage/healing needed, and that route would get old relatively quickly. Still, one wonders how many variations Blizzard can produce on time-honored mechanics (e.g. "you WANT to poison yourself!") before things start getting over the top.

An aside on boss soundbytes
The Oculus boss has a lengthy speech about Insolence and Arrogance that he shouts to let the Bronze drake riders know that it's time to lock him down with time stop. This is going to happen several times per attempt, and it may take multiple attempts for the group to down the boss (yes, Mr. PUG Pally, when we told you that you need to move during the Planar Shift after the last time you got killed by the ORBS OF DEATH, we really did mean that you need to keep moving the ENTIRE time the ORBS OF DEATH are out, rather than deciding that you've moved far enough and stopping to let the ORBS OF DEATH kill you again).

My wife was in the room at the time, and she was getting pretty tired of the speech by the end. I pointed out that, had this been a raid boss, it probably would have taken way more than three attempts to kill it. Though "not annoying other people in the room with the computer (and/or the person actually playing the game)" shouldn't be the only consideration in MMORPG sound design, you'd think that they might consider how long and noisy a soundbyte needs to be if it's going to be playing repeatedly during a fight. As my wife pointed out, the boss could have just said "GRR!" to indicate that he was enraged. We even have an in-game raid warning system these days, designed for just such an occasion.

(Speaking of annoying sound effects, the designer who decided that the portable train set was a good idea should be locked in a room and forced to listen to what happens when some idiot drops one by the Wintergrasp portal NPC right before a battle. We can let him out again after he listens to the scene before every single Wintergrasp battle on every single server for a day or two. Someone does this without fail, and forcing 40+ players to make the /train emote noise is so loud that you really don't have a choice besides hitting the mute button on your speakers.)


DeftyJames said...

I just spent a few days with my niece and nephew playing Mario Kart on the Wii. Now there is a game loaded with gimmicks.

I think it was Scott Jennings over at Broken Toys who said that good game design is making a fight appear challenging without actually being challenging. In that vein, all of MMOs are one huge gimmick. The difference between WoW and Mario Kart is simply how obvious the gimmick is. And given how popular MK has been, it could be said that by making the gimmicks more obvious, Blizzard is just responding to market demand.

BTW, the original meaning of the word "fun" meant "to cheat," "as in the phrase "funny money". Worth reflecting on.

Centuri said...

They are adding in a toy train destroying robot in patch 3.1. It still costs just as much as the train and is on the same cooldown.

Green Armadillo said...

@Centuri: I knew that the robot existed, but was not aware of the price. I suppose it would be only fair to let the dev we're locking in the sound booth to listen to pre-wintergrasp trains skip a single train for each 250 gold we take off of one of his personal characters.