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Improving Themepark MMO Dungeons

utgarde keep themepark MMO dungeonsI’ve done thousands — maybe tens of thousands — of dungeon runs in themepark MMOs, and they all seem to suffer from some of the same issues.

  • Repeating the same dungeon over and over
  • Too many trash pulls and not enough bosses
  • Encounter variety and mechanics are always the same

In themepark MMOs the gearing or experience systems inevitably involve running the same dungeon(s) many, many times.  Right now In FFXIV I am running Ampador Keep repeatedly over nad over because it is the only dungeon to offer me both Philosophy and Mythology Tomestones (tokens to buy gear) at a reasonable rate.  It takes ~35 minutes to complete, and then I go back through.  World of Warcraft is the same way.  In WotLK I think I ran Utgarde Keep 750+ times.

Knowing that this system of repeating dungeons isn’t going to change, one solution would be to increase the number of dungeons available.  I want 10 or more dungeon options, each providing a different atmosphere just so that I don’t have to stare at the same walls every time.

Dungeons are inundated with trash mobs.  Sometimes they are difficult, but for the most part they act as a time sink or busy work to limit the number of times a boss can be killed.  First, I would remove 50-75% of the trash mobs.  The remaining pulls I would want to be entirely unique.  I hate having to pull 5 groups of mobs and have that group be the same each pull.

I would love a bit of randomness thrown into the mix.  I think that’s the best part about sandbox or open-world dungeons.  Although I’m sitting in the same dungeon, in the same room, day in and day out, at least there’s a chance of something unique happening if a train goes by or something completely random and out of my control occurs.  Maybe have bosses utilize random mechanics, or have the trash mob composition change.  Anything to change it up so that I’m not always standing to the side of a mob or avoiding his breath every time I fight him.

One of the biggest changes I would love to see in Themepark dungeon design would be to add way more bosses.  I think a dungeon full of nothing but boss fights would be fantastic.  Other variables can be adjusted to make up for it.

Themepark design may be here to stay, and it may be the easy route for developers to go, but there’s still a great deal of ways to improve the execution and delivery.

  • Aggro says:

    These are some great ideas, and I feel random dungeons would be a simple task. Basically provide puzzle pieces that fit multiple ways.

  • solarbear says:

    Rift Dungeons after they patched them were pretty much what you described. Initially they took forever. Very little trash. Lots of bosses. Good rewards through drops and tokens. 3 weeks of doing 10 mans and I had 3 full sets of gear – note they could only be run once a week.

  • Keen says:

    Yeah, I think a lot of games manage to do a bit to help alleviate the mundane. WoW has been decent as providing a variety of dungeons, Rift did some trash removal, etc. I want to see a game from the ground up designed to provide that different experience for dungeons.

    Right now I’m trying to figure out if Themeparks could do away with instanced dungeons entirely. That may expand the scope of the game way beyond themepark, though.

    In the end, for me it’s all about removing what I don’t like and putting in what I do. For themepark instances that’s less trash, more bosses, and a different experience as often as possible.

  • I like a good themepark style Dungeon, and Utgarde Keep is still one of my favorite instances. yes, there could be more variety instead of a toughness curve involving more damage or faster pace, I’d welcome the changes – but getting rid of Instances altogether seems to be throwing away the baby with the bathwater.

  • Gankatron says:

    I am a big fan of random elements in MMO’s, of course balancing them might be more difficult, but then again who cares if one time the difficulty is too much, its is only a game.

  • Jericho says:

    This is initially what ArenaNet said we were going to get with dungeons in Guild Wars 2. They promised us that we were going to have randomized elements in the dungeons so every dungeon run would be at least slightly different. They had the right idea, but they failed to attempt to keep this promise after they put the “random” Troll boss in their first dungeon.

    I really do wish MMO Devs could understand that we want more interesting things. The illusion of choice that GW2 gave us with their multiple paths was interesting, but what we needed was for the game to choose our path for us and have a single reward no matter what path you got.

    The biggest issue with this type of game design though is the group of players who are going to look for the path of least resistance. The people who were running a single “partial” path of a dungeon in GW2 because spending 10minutes on it was better than completing the dungeon. The people who would immediately leave the group when the LFD dropped you into a Nexus group because it was less painful to wait for the deserter debuff to wear than deal with idiots who couldn’t use a drake.

    Its a fine line. The solution may not be to redesign dungeons, but to increase the scope of the Theme Park itself. I do not mind old school Theme Park dungeons as they are but I believe that there needs to be other activities that are worth it to complete. We saw the expansion of the Park during the TBC era with Daily Quests. However, older “non WoW era” MMOs have shown off how rewarding other types of content can be to a Theme Park. These older games of course saw the journey from level 1 to their level cap as a huge part of their “park” experience. An MMO where crafting, gathering, community involvement, as well as varied types of battle content are what we should be asking for. Not simply a way to improve the single Park ride that we have been forced to ride and call “fun” for 8 years.

    We need more things that are rewarding. Not only variation inside the task we are repeating for said reward. Would WoW, FFXIV, Rift, etc be more fun if their dungeons had some random RNG mechanics in there to make us think on our feet? Yes.

  • rohirrim says:

    Trash is boring when they are meaningless. If you put trash drops, like recipes and gear then immediately they are interesting…if trash does not have loot, like in FFxiv and they only serve as a time sink between bosses then they are boring indeed.

    “I want 10 or more dungeon options, each providing a different atmosphere just so that I don’t have to stare at the same walls every time.”

    WotLK had more than 10 dungeons when you que at 80 but instead of better quality of endgame, you saw people leave immediately if the “wrong” dungeon pop up(occulus for example)…So at the end, people is more interested in efficiency..they will always run the dungeon with the more profit/hour instead of chose variety…

  • Keen says:

    @Jericho: Well said.

    @Rohirrim: Awesome point ^100 degree. I totally agree with you. If trash dropped amazing loot, you bet I’d be willing to wade through it all day long. I think that’s why in oldschool MMOs I didn’t mind getting into a group and just killing mobs… the EXP was amazing. Ahh… I love it. Great point. 🙂

  • iMMOlate says:

    Good points. However, you do not really have much of a choice when creating an instance. Some elements have to be standard and repeating. It would be nice if companies added some random elements in order to advance through an instance. You could puzzles, traps etc. just to change it up. That said, if you run an instance 50 times you are more than likely going to experience everything numerous times.

  • Howdy Doody says:

    I think the key word in your article is “randomness”. Now that I’m playing the hell out of D3 on xbox I can tell you the randomness is the main reason I play.

    If MMO dungeons had random mobs, random traps, random layouts, random chests, random loot, random boss mechanics I’d be all over it. As of now any scripted sequence bores the hell ata me and it what keeps me from playing any new MMOs.

    You shouldn’t be able to go to the internet to see how to beat something. It’s old.

  • Einhander says:

    I really wish they would have a “end game” version of every dungeon available. With the added random mobs you mentioned, I’ve seen that somewhere before but I can’t remember where it was… might have been a solo RPG.

    I like the titan fights and would also love to see multiple boss only dungeons I.E. wow’s Trial of the Crusader.

  • Gankatron says:

    Giving trash mob better loot wouldn’t make the runs more interesting for me, just more worthwhile; by analogy, many people would pick through trashbins, if every so often they would find a Krugerrand, and yet the actual process of sorting through muck still would not be intrinsically enjoyable.

  • Joe says:

    @Rohirrim Piggybacking off your WOTLK experiences and the meaningful trash aspect, the other thing they did well in Ulduar (At times) was they made certain trash pulls feel more like “mini bosses” rather than just a 1,000 standard mobs, do you remember those 2 stone giants that you had to separate? and Kill the beam thing that would go from one to the other or else your group would wipe? Or there were 2 other mobs that would debuff the tanks and the 2 tanks would have to swap targets or their stats would be garbage and essentially get 1 shot. Little tiny encounters like that work a lot, and feel so much more rewarding and intriguing, this is essentially to just further accommodate trash and increasing the compelling nature of it.

    I definitely agree with the loot aspect, just think the strategies and complexion of the mobs you’re killing also help along with it as well.

    @Keen I think all these points you brought up about the problems with the gear grind continue to further my point i’ve been championing on this blog about small standard group size raid esque content. Imagine every “Major” patch for a themepark, and instead of 1 raid, you get 5 new dungeons? Making “tiers” of 5/6 man dungeons, rather than a single T1 raid dungeon, making the monotony of running the same dungeon, not completely gone, but definitely reduced a good bit.

  • rohirrim says:

    @Keen yea..grouping and grinding is one of my favorite activities. Especially grinding mobs for crafting materials with friends. Teamspeak and let the grind begin!I never understood why grinding is so bad in the new MMOs and MMO players…I suppose thats why they made dailies..to control grinding, because somehow it is “very bad” now.

    @Joe Ulduar is my favorite raid after Karazhan so far 🙂 I do remember yeap. Trash didn’t only drop special recipes, or had a chance to drop special loot, but they also gave you reputation with a faction you needed. So not a moment I felt that waste time on this trash…on the other hand, sometimes we were chosing a dungeon that have the most trash in order to have better chance for loot…remember Battered Hilt in WotlK?it was a trash drop and started a quest which give you one of the best weapons on time. I was more excited killing trash for Battered Hilt than bosses..

  • Joe says:

    @Rohirrim Wow, i totally forgot about the battered Hilt, yeah that was pretty awesome. I loved Ulduar as well, WoTLK was an incredibly inconsistent expansion, Naxx was underwhelming, Ulduar was Godlike, but i felt like everything else after it was lackluster, including ICC which i found to be ok, but considering the hype before it came out, i expected much more. Kara will always have a special place in my heart lol.

  • Jericho says:

    @Rohirrim The Battered Hilt was an interesting experiment that worked only for the first couple of weeks. And even then it was mostly due to the greatly increased “bugged” drop rate it had during those days. It worked for the opening weeks of the ICC dungeons and made them worth spamming for that chance. This type of reward structure boils down to the picture you can get at the end of the “ride” to remember it by. Its a nice incentive to go on the ride but it does virtually nothing for the average experience while on the “ride”.

    Ulduar’s trash mechanics are one of the many aspects of the Ulduar experience that helped make the raid dungeon the very best “ride” that Blizzard has ever produced in WoW. Karazahn was a close second, due to its ease of play as well as the “random” elements of the Opera encounter and the “puzzle” of a pinata that was Chess. My mind still boggles that Blizzard has never even attempted to replicate the pure pleasure that was the multiple event randomness that Opera provided. Each week we could always “assume” we were going to get Big Bad Wolf, but when something else popped, it made the ENTIRE experience that much better.

    The “Modern” MMO has been Blueprinted after WoW. The success of Warcraft can not be denied. However, you must look at the reasons why people are leaving the game in large numbers as well as why they came in the first place. The Theme Park of WoW once had many things to do that were valuable. The simplification of the game has lead to a Park with a very limited selection of “rides”. Attractions in the current crop of MMOs tend to be relegated to Dungeons/Raids, Daily Quests, PvP, Achievement Hunting and Holiday Events. Notice I do include Achievements as an attraction. GW2 has created a game where the Achievement is the majority of their content. They may have something to do with one of the other attractions in the park (Ride this ride 100 times or Ride this ride while wearing a hat and holding an umbrella) but its very clear that Developers are now of the opinion that Achievements are “content”.

    I ramble but at the end of the day my point is that improving what content we have out there is not the true answer to solve what ails the Modern MMO. The cure, the answer, is to take a long look at adding different types of PvE content and to take an even longer look at how you are setting up the reward structure for that content. Talking about how fun some of the older content was, doesn’t solve the issue that if that content was put out today, we would probably have similar issues with it as we have with today’s content.

  • Rohirrim says:

    @Jericho I fully agree with your post and have to say that currently I don’t play wow. Although I believe that the majority of MMO players are after the Holy Grail which they will never find. I also played vanilla wow and I remember those days as magic days of my gaming experiency. everything was new and excited. I had many things to do, that I wouldn’t do now, at least not with that excitement.

    There is only a number time someone can level and alt character for example and feel so much excitemend. I do remember meeting people talk to them, try making friends, do world pvp for hours in astranar and Southshore.

    Did wow changed since then?Yes of course it did…it became much more a game than a virtual world. But we also change too. the blame is half ours and half on the developers side. I know I have changed..exploration does not give me such excitemend as it used to be, I am less social than before and I am less excited leveling and doing quests and dungeons…

    Yes, the ride is the same on the 100th time you run the dungeon, regardless the drops. But what is the alternative?Are we talking about another game category or we still talking about RPG?is there something so innovative out there that will make the ride completely different and still called RPG game? Sandboxes are very good and I love the virtual world they can offer, but they are all build around PVP and more specifically the “force” pvp even to people they do not enjoy it. I would love to play Archage, have my house, gather materials and build my ship and sail in the oceans, but I will not do it because of PVP..

    So people who hate un-organised pvp(Gang) they are forced into Themeparks or single player “sandboxes” (Skyrim)

  • Sanz says:

    “It takes ~35 minutes to complete, and then I go back through.”

    “Dungeons are inundated with trash mobs. Sometimes they are difficult, but for the most part they act as a time sink or busy work to limit the number of times a boss can be killed. First, I would remove 50-75% of the trash mobs.”

    Any contradiction here? So a dungeon should only take you 8-17 minutes to clear? Some days I am convinced you are the pied piper for saving MMOs, and other days I swear you are the problem.

  • The_Thinker says:

    That is probably the reason I DON’T play MMO’s. Why would I want to play a dungeon Over and Over again??

    That is defeats the purpose of playing a video game, which is to experience the world the developers created.

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