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What if dungeons in MMOs were randomly generated weekly or monthly?

Random Dungeons in MMOs

random dungeon mmo
What if dungeons in MMOs were randomly generated weekly or monthly?

Random content is a common theme during a Keen and Graev game design gab session.  We’ve been tossing around the idea of randomly generated one-time boss spawns for quite some time.  I think Onyxia is a great example.  There’s this dragon with a really rich story, but she’s farmed over and over.  Logistically and story-wise it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a boss like Onyxia be a one-time-kill.  We then thought about having random one-off boss lairs spawn up around the world, and while that would be awesome to have a new boss come crashing in unannounced to a capital city or a zone, or suddenly a cave appears in a mountain housing a new dragon, it again becomes a logistics issue.

So we went back to the drawing board and came up with a new idea: Random dungeons.  What if dungeons could be randomly generated and introduced to the game at regular intervals? I’m thinking of open dungeons like Guk with lots of tunnels — something a developer doesn’t have to spend a ton of hours fine-tuning because the dungeon will be available one week then gone the next.  Instanced dungeons are technically a lot harder because the entire experience is scripted, but a traditional dungeon that players share might be much easier.   Maybe once a month a new dungeon comes out and randomly rotates old ones out so you never know when a dungeon will disappear.

This is all part of this ‘dynamic content’ and ‘group content’ kick we’re on lately.  There needs to be a way for content to be fresh.  I’m itching to play something unscripted and unfamiliar, but that’s an experience I can’t seem to find readily available in modern MMOs.  What are your thoughts? Can randomly generated, temporary content be a thing?

  • I’d love randomly generated dungeons in an MMO, it would really help keep things fresh. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of anything like that before.

    I’m really hoping this idea of WildStar having constantly changing raid bosses works out in a similar way to keep things from just becoming a tedious farming process.

  • For once I’m actually able to disagree! Two reasons:

    1. Having something structural like a dungeon pop up and then disappear undermines the concept of “virtual world”. Discovering a new dungeon is one thing but if it’s going to then disappear after a week or a month there would need to be a valid explanation. Now of course those aren’t hard to come up with – the volcano the dungeon is inside erupts, indiscriminate use of explosive magic by adventurers causes an earthquake etc etc but if something like that happens every time it becomes just another meaningless mechanic that devalues the worldiness of the world (and raises questions about how all the permanent dungeons survive).

    2. As we are seeing in GW2, and as we saw to a lesser extent in Rift, if you persistently and routinely add gobs of limited-duration content with significant rewards attached you will heavily disrupt regular patterns of gameplay. It’s exciting at first but it soon becomes routine and then exhausting.

    So, I’d be strongly against having random dungeons pop up, especially on a regular, notified schedule. On the other hand I’d be in favor of the content of fixed dungeons changing, preferably unpredictably and even more preferably in response to player usage. If the game systems monitored player activity and changed the spawns in dungeons accordingly that could add some genuine dynamism. If popular dungeons could begin to depopulate and offer less attractive rewards as the inhabitants became fed up of constantly being killed and plundered, while at the same time (with no advertisement or foreknowledge) less-used dungeons began to become the home to new denizens seeking safer hiding places for their highly-desirable treasures players would need to be a lot more flexible about where they dungeon-crawled, when and how often.

    I’m all for a changing, dynamic world but it has to be, as far as it can be, a process that’s opaque to players because if players can fall into meaningless, rote activities they will, so long as they see benefits in doing so and until, inevitably, they begin to wonder what the point is and wander off to another game.

  • Honestly I have to say this is actually one of the best ideas I have seen on this blog! Random dungeons could be generated weekly due to player usage/kills. MOBS could be rotated in and difficulty could be adjusted. Like you said they could get tired of getting killed and bring in bigger guns!

    The layout themselves could also be randomized to keep players on their toes, I think it would add a huge amount of replayability to the game as well!

    This is a great idea, ill just jot that down for future use!

  • As an addendum, I think there should be permanent dungeons, but randomized every week or month.

  • I actually love the idea of random dungeons. They’re done to great effect in Diablo II and that’s one game I’ll always return too.

    It would be much more satisfying from a group perspective too – you’d all have to stick together and not stray off like so many people are prone to doing when they farm the same dungeons repeatedly.

    Stray off in a random dungeon and, well, you could risk aggro’ing everything 😉


  • Just remember the major drawback of losing the uniqueness and cohesiveness of vision you get from manually created dungeons. You have to resort to tilesets that fit together in a way that can be randomized. When you see it happen in hack n slash games like Diablo or Torchlight it’s fine because the game encourages mindless wonton slaughter. When you see it happen in games like, say, Skyrim, you tend to get a lot more complaints that everything is repeated over and over and thus becomes boring.

    It did get me thinking about what could be some awesome things. Like making an explorer mindset pay off. Say that dungeons are randomly placed through a large world, change locations and setup over time, and are instanced. People could use a parchment reagent to mark the location on your world map and mak. If someone else buys your map from you, their game map is marked with the entrance location of the dungeon. There are also a variety of other dungeon traits that are kept track of like level of mobs inside, amount of mobs inside, potential amount of treasure inside, things like that. These start off as ??? but if you actually take time to explore the inside too instead of just finding the entrance, they move up to very rough estimates, then gradually get a narrower band of possibilities. These info are also part of the map purchase from players.

    The result would be you could clearly run out and try and find dungeons on your own if thats what you like, though it may be hard to find the perfect one that is close to your level, short, and packed full of treasure and monsters. A better course of action would be to browse the marketplace and see what maps are being sold (They give you the general information before you buy, but not the location). You’d want one as specific as possible. And because they change all the time, they can’t be made irrelevant by information freely available on fansites. There would ALWAYS be a demand for scouted random dungeons.

    I’m too exhausted to expound more but you probably get the picture.

  • @Bhagpuss: I agree with you that random dungeons popping up then disappearing does undermine a virtual world feel. I like your way of adapting a workable solution, though. Altering existing dungeons to introduce this ‘changing’ element would be just as good.

    @Fathom: I agree with the need for static dungeons. I think having both static dungeons and random ones would appeal to multiple groups of players.

    @Sine Nomine: Yeah, the quality of the dungeons may be lower than a hand-crafted dungeon/experience. I think that’s a limit of technology that I may not quite fully grasp. Perhaps this limitation can already be overcome. I honestly don’t know. I definitely agree with the explorer aspect — that was a huge point for me and Graev.

  • Don’t make the dungeons just randomly pop up if that’s a continuity issue for the game. Something like this could be easily implemented in an area like the caves of time in WoW. I was always surprised that there was so little to do when they introduced that part of the game. In EQ they did the whole “LDoN expansion” which really just added a few quest hub camp type things throughout the world where you could gather a group and then receive a randomly selected quest and corresponding dungeon for you to attempt. The excuse was that the dungeons were places that archeologists had just recently found. The maps weren’t random, there was a few for each camp and you got a random selection from that list. And the quests were in a similar vain, kill ten foozles, collect ten foozle paws, rescue a hostage, or slain a mini-boss of sorts. You could get random named spawns as a bonus sometimes too. All in all it could have been better but it was fun and interesting at the time and I can imagine it could be done much better today.

    I was just thinking of other options and I think having one time events could be fun. Especially if they required a server wide effort to trigger and then beat, and then also gave a server wide benefit of some sort. Just as an example, create a series of dungeons that all end in a boss that is protecting a magical seal. Put a restriction on how often a person can participate in the breaking of a seal via raid lock out mechanics. Require that say 1000 seals be broken before some open world boss is spawned. When the server gathers and defeats the world boss all participants get rewarded in one or more ways. And then add something server wide as a bonus for managing to do all of that, say a new vendor that sells new and shinier gear, or heck even just different looking gear. You could add reputation vendors as well so that players who did the seals over and over but couldn’t be there for the big fight can get rewarded for their efforts. I really liked the roll out of AQ in WoW except that the conclusion of the war effort when Silithis went nuts blew because their server hardware couldn’t handle it.

  • Whenever I read an article of yours suggesting something for MMOs I nearly always come away thinking: ‘Guild Wars 2 already has that’, but this time I just had to comment.
    GW2 has had 2 amazing temporary dungeons in the past 3 months and with the promise of more to come (content drops every 2 weeks) I’d say there will be a lot more temporary (some permanent maybe) dungeons to come. And they’re hand designed, not the kludge that happens when you have something random. The mechanics of the most recent dungeon were widely applauded by the whole community, and even myself, a non-dungeoneer in all my previous MMOs, have started to get into them.

  • I don’t usually worry about the tileset issues when talking about dungeons in today’s instanced games. If I am going to be repeatedly running dungeons I would rather they be new and different in some way every time. I think one of the best instances I explored during my few years in WoW was the Scarlet Monastery. It was very pretty, and I really appreciated that the first time through. By the time I had got the loot out of it I wanted for just my first character I really didn’t care one bit. And by the time I had finished earning the money for my Epic Mount and buying the reputation with Orgrimarr as a Tauren I was absolutely sick of the place. Whatever prettiness there may have been in latter dungeons I don’t think I ever noticed.

  • @whorhay: definitely agree. The more I think about it, maybe tile sets aren’t a bad way to go when the alternative is a repetitive scripted experience. In a game that offers open world dungeons though it may be more about finding a balance.

  • I fear the innate receptivity of tilesets would only make it worse if you have to run it repeatedly. Both scripted and random will get boring if done plenty of times.
    Personally I would rather see random tilesets in a different use than classic dungeons. I’d rather see them as a sort of dungeoncrawl challenge with mazelike properties, where difficulty goes up the deeper you go, and rewards increase with depth.

  • I’d like to get away from the mindset of “running a dungeon”. A dungeon should be a place you “go” or “crawl” or “explore” or “hunt in” or “camp.”

  • I’ve had this idea for some time, it answers almost all the issues with today’s mmos. Create a huge world, with thousands of dungeon “connectors” where a dungeon might spawn, but only so many dungeons up at a time. Have dungeons reset and move daily or when they are completed (whichever is first). This would give people a reason to explore, something extremely lacking in all current games. These dungeons should be large, and not instanced. If several small groups find a single dungeon, there should be plenty of paths to follow. Have themes and bosses randomized based on location, and randomized loot. It’s the perfect start to an mmo, really.

    On an immersion breaking scale of 1-10, instances and static bosses are a 10, random dungeons appearing and disappearing are a 1.

  • @Jenks: That’s kind of what Graev and I were thinking. We were originally taking it further thinking that there wouldn’t be a network of random dungeons or bosses but that each of them would be 100% unique.

    Part of me thinks it isn’t immersion breaking at all that a new ‘dungeon’ springs up. Bad guys getting together and creating a lair isn’t hard for me to accept.

  • I’m not a fan of temporary content.
    I like to play at my own pace, and do what I want to do at that time, I don’t want to be forced to log in and play today, or forced to change my plans and go do a dungeon.
    One of the things I hate the most is missing out on things, its why I rarely start playing an mmo after launch and one of the things that got me ground down in GW2.
    Big no from me for temporary anything.
    Randomisation is fine however, if done well

  • I’m all for procedural dungeon generation; however, it needs to be semi-persistent, i.e. no dungeon entrances just popping out of thin air.

    . . . it isn’t immersion breaking at all that a new ‘dungeon’ springs up. Bad guys getting together and creating a lair isn’t hard for me to accept

    Yeah, that works if it’s obvious (nearby camps, army, etc.) why the new dungeon has appeared. And as I mention below, it makes sense for it to take time to dig it out; i.e. the dungeon is generated in parts as the NPCs construct it, not all at once.

    The most basic idea I’ve considered is to let players (PCs and NPCs) have the ability to dig; then a new dungeon (area) isn’t created until an entrance is dug out. E.g. they can dig out a new cave entrance on the surface — or, if already inside a cave, dig through a “cave-in” or whatever into a new area. Then the new dungeon (or part of one) is generated. Also, doors or gates can be placed to temporarily block off areas until new content is generated in those areas. So, same process: the new area isn’t actually generated until the key is found and the door/gate is unlocked.

    Old dungeon areas can likewise be cleaned up easily: cave-ins, doors, and gates can be used to block off access to the old areas that can then be removed.

    @Everyone railing against tilesets: You do realize that that’s exactly what games like Skyrim, etc. use, right? In those games, they’re just hand-placed instead of procedurally-placed. There’s still a finite number of (smaller) pieces that are placed together to form the whole.