Dramatically Failing, Simply Succeeding

I was talking to a friend of mine today while I was playing a flash game called Sonny 2. I realized that I was having a lot of fun playing this game and that it felt a lot like MMO boss fights at times. This friend is an avid WoW addict player and I had recently failed once more to join him with enthusiasm so I mentioned to him that if WoW had boss fights like this Sonny 2 game then I would gladly rejoin him. He, of course, had no clue what I meant, and so by the time I was finished explaining I had it clearly lined out that MMO endgame boss fights (and most of the boss fights throughout in general) are boring to me because they have such a small margin for error.

I think it’s fair to say that they may be able to make WoW a game I want to play simply by making the boss fights easier. How this would mix with min/maxing and hardcore efficient players I don’t know, but for the rest of us I think it would rejuvinate the experience.

Now what makes the boss fights in this flash game so fun? You can walk into the unkown without getting stomped. Plain and simple. Every boss has some different trick to him. Some bosses heal themselves to half health when they get low on life, some bosses have abilities that will one-shot you if you can’t find a way to counter it, some bosses have ridiculous debuffs that make one man in your team useless, and the list goes on. The trick is that all of these things can kill you, just like bosses in MMOs, but they aren’t so over the top that you have to know what they’re going to do before they do it to survive it. The game allows for a learning while playing without making the bosses so incapable that you cannot fail.

Sonny 2 removes required anticipation and instead gives you fights where you can wander into the unknown, take a huge hit from something you didn’t expect, and adapt before you get crushed flat in one fell swoop. It’s been a lot of fun for me, and I think the giants could learn something from this little flash game.

I’ve read a lot recently about making boss encounters randomized but  I think that with the current combat systems it wouldn’t really work. Combat happens so fast and so dramatically that any boss ability that you don’t know how to counter effectively will simply kill your group. You would go from knowing each boss individually to being required to memorize a huge list of potential abilities and know how to respond to each one in a matter of seconds. As it is right now it’s not even obvious what all the boss mechanics even do without someone telling you, or until you wipe. One player can be new to an encounter, unless it’s the healer or the tank, without any severe consequences, but any more than that and you risk failing miserably as players fail to react to befuddling stimuli.

If combat were reduced in pace, so that in the second stage of the boss fight when there’s incredible AOE your healers have time to learn on the fly instead of having to have prepared and be aware before their first time, then I think that many boss encounters would be seen more as fun and the “endgame” MMOs have come to love might be a little more accepted by the skeptics, or maybe bosses would start to be fun, instead of being pushovers pre-level-cap and patterned machines at max-level. I think it might be in the simplicity of reducing the dramatic nature of combat that MMO bosses might find their salvation- for me at least.

As always, this is just food for thought. Come share your opinion! 🙂

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7 Responses to “Dramatically Failing, Simply Succeeding”

  1. Ysharros Says:

    Too tired this morning, no time. But reading 😀

    • jedioftheshire Says:

      🙂 Take your time. My next concoction will take a while to get all spelled out. And I appreciated your lolcat today! I always do. Have I mentioned before that they’re my favorite thing about the internet?

      Don’t let this distract people though! I’d like to know what everyone thinks about the post!

  2. Tesh Says:

    I’m a bit ambivalent, actually.

    On the one hand, I really like Sonny, and suspect that Sonny 2 is even better. I also really like the more forgiving aspects of the game design, and more than once have noted that I want to *play* games, not be played by them, going through “Do It Again, Stupid” game design before I actually get it all right.

    On the other hand, I’m also a proponent of randomizing encounters in games because it offers more tactical thought. I like that tactics can change in a game, and I like rewarding those players who think on their feet and don’t just play their own internal memorized macros.

    I think the trouble is that we’re dealing with two different gamer types; the ones who want a more freeform experience that rewards thought and experimentation, and the ones who want predictability and to pull the “ding” lever and get their reward.

    I suspect the ideal would be to cater to both, not with the same set of SPAMish mystery meat mashup design, but with two different sets of raids. Let players who just want the same thing every time play that way, and let the players who want something different play that way; never the twain shall meet. (Players may shift from one to the other, certainly, but the raid instances would be different, and not try to cater to both at the same time.)

    Then there’s the difficulty axis, wherein some players *like* unforgiving experiences, and others want to tinker a bit. So now we have two different raid mindsets, and difficulty sliders. (With concurrent rewards, of course.)

    It’s a lot of work… but I think it’s worth it.

    Short story long, I agree that we need more play, less memorization, but I know that’s just my taste, not necessarily what others like.

    • jedioftheshire Says:

      I just don’t see randomized boss abilities having the impact people think they will have. If there is an existing example of this specific mechanic please inform me and I will go participate and be able to judge more accurately!

      Otherwise I can see it degenerating from “you need to memorize the bosses stages and attacks” to “you need to memorize the appropriate response to each of these 80 abilities, just in case one of them comes up.” That just seems like MORE memorization instead of encouraging adaptive behavior. That’s what I was trying to say (although I may not have said it well) at some point in this post- that for any kind of true adaptive behavior to work the combat system needs to change dramatically so that memorization is no longer a necessary part of the equation. (I will have another post coming up soon that relates to this. I’m hoping it will be a really good one!)

      • Tesh Says:

        I suppose that at some point, if all the system is doing is selecting scripts from a list and playing them in order, then yes, you’ll wind up with that sort of effect. I’m thinking of a more heuristic system that learns from players and doesn’t play by a strict script.

        Yes, perhaps we are just limited to the technology of a non-heuristic system. With limited resources for AI and behavior, we’re definitely stuck with a library of conditioned responses.

        Philosophically, though, isn’t that how we handle real life? We have a set of responses that we use to deal with life, even if it throws us curveballs.

        Also, if the AI *does* get smart enough, players won’t be able to beat it. That’s probably best to avoid.

        All in all, yes, I’d prefer a more forgiving experience that encourages *play* over following a script. Perhaps the only way to get that is (better designed) PvP, though. These AI scripts aren’t Data or the EMH, after all.

      • jedioftheshire Says:

        Yes, if you want to think about it that way, our behavior is really nothing more than a complicated system of patterned responses.

        If we break down the patterns that MMO bosses give us at the moment though we find nothing sophisticated about them. There is little to no complexity in following these patterns.

        The equation ends up looking like:
        Stimuli -> Response

        Instead of what I would consider to be better:
        Stimuli -> Interpretation -> Consideration -> Response

        My line of reasoning here is that with a random pool of 80 abilities we would add the Interpretation step to the equation (although mods tend to limit the interpreting to being able to read big letters that flash across your screen) but we would be neglecting to offer any opportunity for Consideration. [Interpreting = figuring out what’s going on. In a standard boss fight you know what will happen so you simply react to the activation of an ability with a preprogrammed response instead of needing to think about what is happening.]

        The more I think about it the more I realize that there may not be a way to keep players going through the Interpretation -> Consideration process without presenting them with new content.

        So even if we were to be able to change the combat system around to encourage learning there would eventually come a point where everyone had learned everything, and given the cost of creating new content (and the rate that some players burn through content) it seems an economic impossibility to keep players chained to one game (not necessarily a bad thing (enter the 2hour per day limit! (stacking up to one weeks worth of time (14 hours) maximum))).

  3. Unexpectedly Busy- Last Thought « Holocron in a Hobbit Hole Says:

    […] Holocron in a Hobbit Hole Wisdom and Truth should be held up as ideals, and while the absolute Truth might be elusive, if we combine our Wisdom then we can get closer to Truth than if we were alone. « Dramatically Failing, Simply Succeeding […]

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