The Shape of Things to Come

One of the things that caught my eye about Ensidiagate (thanks Matt for coining that term) was how different people responded to the notion that some tradeskill might give an advantage in a raid encounter.

Most longterm WoW players reacted immediately, saying Blizzard would never do that intentionally – which is true. It is completely against their current philosophy. But there was a time when that type of obscure puzzle solving strategy was considered fair game by designers.

Remember Naxxramas? How about that boss which required the use of mind control on the adds, a spell given to only one class in the game. Going back to DaoC, I remember an encounter where the raid needed to stop some adds from walking into the centre of an area. The adds were immune to almost all crowd control. The eventual solution? It involved stealthers using a distract rotation; every time the mob was targeted, it paused for a moment and turned away from the stealther.

Even later on at Lady Vashj, I remember people using the tailored nets to help slow adds.

Back in those days, we would have loved an encounter that required a tradeskill trick to complete. Discovering that strategy would have been brilliant fun, and rewarded real out of the box thinking. And imagine discovering that your crappy tradeskill turns out to be really crucial for a boss fight?

This is not excusing Ensidia for ignoring an obvious exploit (yes, I think it is increasingly obvious that they knew something was up, they’re a very smart bunch), but MMOs these days are moving swiftly away from puzzle solving. There’s not much wriggle room for out of the box thinking in PvE these days in theme park games, and too much of it will lead to exploits. Instead you have to solve the problem in the way the designers intended.

I was thinking this on reading in the Escapist about the Bioware founders’ favourite games of the last decade. I see a lot of shooters in those lists. And only one true puzzle game, LittleBigPlanet.

We know that puzzle based encounters are problematic in MMOs, because of all the spoiler sites and tactic guides, but I wonder if raids were more fun when we felt that any strategy was fair game and that being creative might be rewarded. Has the internet really killed puzzle games? World of Goo and Professor Layton have been popular enough, players still like this sort of challenge and are happy to pay for it.

And I wonder how much of the Ensidia leadership is simply mired in the past, when tanks were warriors, paladins were alliance, and out of the box thinking got you world firsts.

8 thoughts on “The Shape of Things to Come

  1. I think you’ve hit the issue there, though. What was once a clever little strategy becomes the way you do things because of the tendancy for wow fights to get walkthroughed to death. And you get back to the situation where you’re running Onyxia and doing Dire Maul tribute runs for the buffs to help you in AQ40. Players will go to absurd, tedious lengths to gain the tiniest bit of advantage, even at the cost of making the fights boring.

    One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that fight design is kind of static in WotLK. And that’s the way players want it can’t shift it up or do something unusual in fight design anymore because people hate it. Witness, for example, the endless bitching about faction champs. We’re not going to get fights that require creativity or thinking on your feet to adapt to because people hate it. Even Kara, which I loved, got some hate because some of the battles didn’t go exactly like clockwork.

    • > faction champs

      They use a completely different game mechanic then classic encounters. Part of playing a ranged DD is that you enjoy not having something ripping you apart. 🙂

      You can’t blame anyone who likes to play WoW if he doesn’t like a “different game”.

      Boss 3 could also be Tetris, Mario Cart or Happy Aquarium. That would also be something unusual.

  2. I think it would be awesome if every fight had some trick here and there; such as bombs to destroying a platform (rebuilding it makes no sense at all) to give some noticeable, but not trivializing advantage. Or an event in which mana efficiency must be combined with AoE, making oil of immolation pretty much required (we have that, actually).

    The risk of more puzzle solving is that it does make it harder to drawn the line on exploits. The harder it is to determine the intended strat, the more likely it is that the unintended strat will be used, the one based on a programming flaw. If Blizzard could somehow perfectly program everything and there were no bugs, then there could be no exploits, only brilliance. With better testing they can get closer, but perfect is impossible, so there will always be the need to carefully define intended and exploited.

  3. DnD online has a lot of puzzles built in, though they are more of an old fashioned “turn levers in right sequence/connect the tiles” sort of puzzles, but they are still a lot of fun. then again, from my experience so far, you can pretty much go solo through the entire game, no group required.. you’ll miss a few things here and there and won’t be able to access some of the difficulty modes, but you can do it.

  4. I have been reading alot about Ensidiagate. On one hand I feel like they did exploit, but on the other hand you have to congratulate them for figuring out a strategy that worked.

    The part that I read that they tried it several times to make sure the rogue could do it makes me feel like they knew they were doing something sneaky. Is it really an exploit though?

    Yes, it did make it so no one fell through the platform. Did Blizzard have other ideas on how the fight was supposed to be won? How can you punish someone for figuring out a strat?

    At least this guild figures out strats unlike the other 99% of wow players that watch youtube videos, blog walkthroughs, and etc. Are they really accomplishing the kill, or just following step by step instructions like any other instruction manual.

    I just think no matter how you twist the details they figured out a way to get a World first kill. I just don’t think playing the game, and using what is available to you is an exploit. An exploit is using third party software that makes you not fall, and levitate instead. I say give them back there achievement, and hotfix it so that strat can’t be used any longer.

  5. I think that Blizzard can’t encourage people to think out of the box because that starts encouraging more min/maxing than is currently the norm.

    For example, Rasuvious absolutely required 2 priests to even start the fight and if they didn’t know how to MC properly or lacked the hit for the MC to stick – uh oh. If for Vashj, the tailoring nets were absolutely needed, that means the raid has to have a tailor. So if you must have a certain number of a class or a certain profession or certain items or certain amount of magic resistance or whatever, it just gives certain fights a hurdle that people may or may not be able to jump over regardless of their skill level. 25 man Heroic Anub absolutely requires paladin BoP but that is not really supposed to be widely accessible raiding content. Blizzard really won’t go back to that since they are keen on making raiding accessible to everyone.

    So despite the cool solutions out of the box thinking can produce, it really can’t have much of a place in WoW now. WoW is more a social game than puzzle and that can be more complex to navigate sometimes (guild politics, etc).

    As for the satisfaction in solving a difficult encounter with ingenuity, I don’t think that changes the fact that people still raid (and in more numbers) now. In addition, that satisfaction is really something few people can experience as in a raid, there are only a few people responsible for setting a strategy usually.

    In my opinion, Ensidia wasn’t really about trying to solve the puzzle at hand. I think they just wanted to get a world first using any means necessary. An ends justifies the means kind of philosophy.

  6. There is one huge problem with puzzles in an MMO raid.

    YOU cannot solve the puzzle. Every try requires a boss fight and 25 people wiping if it wasn’t the right idea. The whole thing is coordinated by the raid leadership.

    They might have fun to try to solve a puzzle. For everyone else it’s just boring. If you have an idea you have to convince the raid leader to try your idea. And they often don’t have time to listen to everybody. You might have to write it down in the forum and hope they read it and you’re going to try it next week.

    Puzzle games are only fun if YOU can solve the puzzle and YOU can try the different ways and see if YOUR idea works.

    Have you every tried to beat a 5 man dungeon or heroic dungeon alone ore with only one other person? Or an outdated raid? If that content is still a little bit challenging, now that’s fun. That’s solving a puzzle. Because YOU and only YOU try to solve the puzzle and YOU can decide which ideas to try.

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