Saturday, April 21, 2012

Of Mice and Men

Most AAA MMOs have that one big boss that is introduced each expansion and promises a fight of epic proportions.  Often these fights, promising so much, fail to deliver.  The big dragon threatening the world, able to ravage entire continents, is taken down by a group of 10 (or 25) adventurers. Developers have not been able to give the final fight the expectations of the final fight.  How do can an MMO hope to have a final boss encounter and also make it feel like everything is on the line?

At the moment, an epic boss encounter is not the highlight of MMOs.  However, maybe they should, and could be under the right development team?  Or maybe they shouldn't and can't be.  

1)    Difficulty

The first major point that people need to realize is does the fight need to be difficult to be fun?  If yes, then there needs to be a gradient of how difficult the fight should be.  If hard, how hard?  Should the average PUG (pick-up group) be able to take him/her down?  Should only the top guilds be able to?  

I really think this point is up for contention among all games.  Most MMOs have not been able to find this balance, and many have changed their ideologies.  I must mention WoW, (Mostly because I have several years of experience, and thus know most about this MMO in particular, and because how many MMO players have not played WoW at some point?), in the Burning Crusade expansion, only a very small percentage of the player base was able to even participate in the final raid.  Now, in Cataclysm, with a LFR (Looking-For Raid) system implemented, a very substantial proportion of people have a reasonably good shot at fighting the final boss. There are now several layers of difficulty in the encounter, there's now LFR, Normal, and Hard-Mode.  Is all this really necessary? Now, instead of one fight being designed, there are now three fights.  As a community, we need to decide what is acceptable and what is not.

2)   Instanced or Non-Instanced?

Will we be able to fight Zhaitan, or any of the elder dragons out in the open?  Will the fight be like the Shatterer or the Shadow Behemoth in current Beta videos?  Or should they be instanced, and be at the end of a hard-core dungeon?  Again, should everyone be able to fight them, or should only the best?  Many of the top guilds in other MMOs will look at these encounters with dread.  Think about it, you have trained for the day, and have made sure you read up on the encounter and watched videos.  Zhaitan comes down from a mountain and crashes on the ground.  Everyone charges in, not knowing that Zhaitan's first move is to breathe fire.  In the first couple of seconds, 75% of everyone is dead, and you and the other's who know the fight now have to fight an uphill battle.  If you all lose, you will have to wait another 6 hours for the event to recycle.  Is that fair?  

3)  How Big is too Big?

Every game has this giant boss that can crush mountains.  Sure, as a concept and in trailers, that looks very nice. In game, as a player, you are basically an ant.  That means as an ant, you will be attacking the bosses toe.  Beside the fact that stabbing a toe should have very little effect, is that fun?  The boss is reduced to a toe.  An ugly, scaly, toe that probably is in need of some cleaning.  (We all know dragons, don't bathe.)  To reduce this effect, should we be able to climb on the boss?  That brings me to the next point.

4) Being Realistic

Everyone would love a boss that you have to go all Shadow-of-Collosus-style on.  300 people climbing Zhaitan as he shakes people off, as he is flying and crashing down on hundreds more.  Epic right?  I am not a developer.  However, having that happen seems pretty hard to do, if not impossible?  Why? Well have you ever seen any MMO attempt this.  Epic encounters that are very mobile are the fights of single player games, not MMOs.  The champion boss encounters so far are pretty nice, except for the fact that the bosses are stationary.  Many people in the community have voiced the opinion, that they should be able to run around and trample people in their path.  Why would the dragon just stand there?  My assumption, is the coding limitations of developers.  Having something that giant in the presence of hundreds of people running about may just cause several computers to crash.

In summary, I think we as a community need to have a discussion on what we want our end encounters to look like.  Developers need to participate in this discussion to bring up realistic coding problems that occur from the solutions provided.  Together, and only together, can we advance the encounters and the genre.

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