Rant: Gimmick Raid Bosses
Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a raid boss in some MMO, and you stop, and sort of have a time-slowing moment where you look around and wonder who thought this boss was a good idea as you watch your friends being slaughtered by some over-the-top gimmick? Well as you probably guessed by now, I have, and it used to happen to me on a regular basis being a guild / raid leader.
What Went Wrong?
Now I've been trying to figure out what or where we went wrong. I remember raiding in games a long time ago and never having to do some of the Special Olympic activities that I made to put my guild through in World of Warcraft raids. Somewhere between the distant past and the present, something has gone horribly wrong with raid boss design.
Now I know there are going to be a lot of people who read this who may actually like a raid boss that involved hopping on your left foot, on the third tile from the left, while spinning around in a circle, while juggling half a dozen eggs (which aren't allowed to break!!), while humming the tune of Super Mario, and DPSing with your feet to win. If your one of those types of people more power to you! Maybe your praying the new instance will have you playing a game of twister against the boss to win! I'm going to blow chunks all over my monitor if I need to do something this ever again.
There is a definite difference between a gimmick and a theme though. I don't mind a boss with a theme, it's to be expected. Not every raid boss can be a single target tank-and-spank. I would expect a fight like Ragnaros to be all about fire flying everywhere, after all he is the Lord of Fire. I've decided that the test to decide if a boss is too gimmicky is if you can see Bob Barker on "The Price is Right" making one of his contestants do what you are to win a new dining room set. Bob Barker must have been hired a long time ago as a side gig designing raid bosses for MMOs because they just keep getting dumber and dumber. I'm waiting to walk into a boss fight and see a giant money wheel that I only get to spin 2 times and hope I get it to add up to $1 without going over.
Both EQ2 and WoW are guilty of helping to pioneer this new trend in raids. In a PvE oriented game, it is only natural that the top of the end game will most likely consist of large groups of players raiding super raid bosses or Gods, or even small size encounters against super villains for what will be the best loot. When we look at the MMO genre as a whole, we can see that there are definitely 2 different raid encounter designs, the old and the new.
The way it was....
When I think of the old, I think of most of the PvE oriented MMOs from Everquest 1 up to and including FFXI. Bosses had some themes and pretty wicked moves in their arsenal of attacks, but it didn't really cross that line where it had degenerated into a 3 ring circus. I remember fighting one of the old God's in EQ1 before the age of Ventrilo and voice chat. The pre-fight run down went something like......first guy in gets a death touch and will be killed instantly, rest of you are going to get your salad tossed around the room with some knockbacks and damage. He maybe 1 or 2 other moves and we went in and had a fun fight! FFXI had some really nice small scale encounters that gave you the same epic feel as a large one. I remember fighting the Arch Duke of Jeuno, an epic story boss encounter, and it was a blood bath but a ton of fun, and we didn't have to bust out the twister game, the money wheel, or a 30 min pre-fight explanation.
The way it is....
Somewhere along the lines, Blizzard consulted Bob Barker, and the face of raiding as we know it has changed. I remember back in the day working through Molten Core for the first time when it was the cutting edge of the games content. I think my head exploded for the first time, literally, when I had to train my guild to defeat Baron Geddon. After screaming in ventrilo telling my guildmates "YOU ARE THE BOMB! RUN! OMFG, RUN YOU DUMB BASTARD! NO, NOT THIS WAY! NOOOOO! YOU DUMB MOTHER F...!" I started to seriously wonder why I was subjecting myself to Kindercare playground activities. As more instances opened up and more bosses got revealed, the trend was becoming more and more obvious. BWL's first room had us kiting 40 mobs in a small room, while mind controlling, while breaking eggs, while standing in the corners, while running in circles, while dropping traps, while targeting the mages just to get past phase 1 of the first mob in the instance.
Impact on the Genre
1) Voice chat programs like ventrilo and teamspeak have become 100% mandatory for every person in order to have a chance of success against elaborate and silly gimmicks. Just explaining these fights in a chat box by typing before the fight would take an hour. Then trying to explain the path to conquer them would waste even more time.
2) The more gimmicky a fight becomes, the less the skill of the actual player comes into account. The fight becomes far less about playing your class well, and turns more into a circus of players trying to step and jump and click the exact way a dev demands. This leaves almost no room for strategy variations. We see this in WoW when a new boss is killed. Once the gimmick is explained, everyone kills him the next day because it has nothing to do with skill.
3) Players will be forced to take matters into their own hands in the form of raid mods. These mods often time dominate the end game raiding scene, and remove the frustration of poorly conceived boss encounters. In WoW, I watched as CT Mod used decurssive to remove the challenge out of half of the fights, then took it even further with CT Raid mods having giant pop ups. These mods then become mandatory for all players. These mods will then be made shortly after every new boss is introduced and ultimately trivialize ALL encounters, not just the gimmicky ones.
The way it should be...
At the end of the day, these types of activities can turn a lot of players off to your end game as a developer. If your end game is stupid, people will quit once they reach it. Nobody wants to be forced to go download third party program to play your game. As a developer you shouldn't be forced into designing encounters with these programs in mind. There needs to be a happy medium somewhere between the raids of old, and giving the encounters a theme. Don't overdo it. People are getting turned off to the idea of raiding, and it can be heard in the buzz leading up to a new MMO release. It can be fun without crossing into the boundary of silly. If I wanted to fight silly encounters, I'd go play Zelda.
Co-Leader of Inquisition