While new features and balancing changes always get noticed in MMORPGs, there is also a lot of time invested in polishing and improving current adventures, which mostly go unnoticed – which is a good thing in general, because we want constant evolution rather than revolutions in the game.
I'd like to give you a little peek inside the polishing process. I'm Wilfried Henseler, Co-Producer for Runes of Magic at Frogster.
Back in Closed Beta, we saw a lot of changes when the lands of Taborea opened to the public for the first time. We changed pretty much every zone based on the experience of the testers; we doubled the number of quests, adjusted the level of difficulty, loot and reward tables many times, and added a huge amount of content to achieve the gaming experience we have today. One of these improvements was the dungeon under the ice of Ystra, called the Ystra Labyrinth. It was introduced around the end of Closed Beta to add more content to the experience for the levels 35-40.
With the current patch we revisited this dungeon and you can see many improvements in the dangerous darkness of the three levels under the surface.
Usually, when revisiting an area, it starts out with numbers and statistics – what I used to call the broadsword of the design analysis process, because it gives an external view of the full picture, with just a few details:
This map shows the path of the adventurers within the first level of the Ystra Labyrinth. The dark red blurs show where monsters were killed, the crosses show where heroes met their master and the yellow dots point to where quests started and ended. We use similar maps in many different versions, separated by classes, monster types, loot, quests, bosses, etc., but for now, this one will do the trick.
At first glance you can see that there aren’t many quests and the rooms of the dungeon are pretty empty. The dungeon also starts out quite challenging looking at the crosses. This is how it started before:
Treasure Hunter Corpses of level 35 players are right in the beginning. We changed this into a friendlier – if one can say that about bloodthirsty skeletons – beginning, and lowered the level of difficulty for the start. This is the same place in the revisited version of the dungeon:
The corpses are now level 31 players, which should give a nice start to the Labyrinth and players of levels slightly above 30 should be able to adventure here in groups. Zooming in to the lower right part of the map shows some more spots to notice:
There are just a few crosses in the lower left part, which indicates that the dungeon is getting too easy after starting out too difficult. This may be because adventurers learn the strategies to survive and adjust their play style, but in visiting the dungeon in person, one will notice that the monsters do actually get easier in this part than they were in the beginning – or actually they are exactly the same:
In addition there aren’t any quests anymore (no yellow dots) and the rooms are unused and empty:
It’s all just about slashing some fairly easy mobs (compared to the beginning of the dungeon) to dungeon crawl – which is not the quality we want in the dungeons. A good Crawl-type dungeon design keeps the heroes on alert and presents them with increasing dangers and, of course, increasing rewards for taking risks.
The details are fleshed out over many visits and discussions. We study the maps, run through the dungeon and have volunteer players report their experience. The community managers gather together all of the information from the forums regarding the area and all together, we map out how it can be improved.
So what we did in this case is we populated the spare rooms and added in a lot of quests to the ride:
Also, notice the teleport at the left. The dungeon becomes much more accessible as groups can port to all areas right away instead of having to fight their way back and forth all the time, giving the dungeon less feel of a crawl and introducing more strategy and less downtime.
The level of difficulty was streamlined in all parts, and the doorway from above is now guarded with more fitting Shadows (remember the starting level is now level 31, at this point level 35 fits quite well in the progression of difficulty):
The same improvements have been made to the other levels of the Ystra Labyrinth and the experience is a lot more fun now, and advances the heroes many levels on their adventure through questing and grouping in the Labyrinth.
On top of the graphical analysis of the waypoints and visits, we run statistics about the time required to finish a quest and on loot drops. Even though the process isn’t always perfect, it’s a fast and objective way to find glitches in quests and loot probability. We adjusted the loot tables in the dungeon quite a bit.
Polishing is always a mix of many sources, the numbers we have, the feedback we get in the forums, experiences from playing in the teams and external helpers. The process is constantly ongoing and doesn’t stop here, we watch the forums and statistics closely after we polish an area and we come back every once in a while to make adjustments and further improvements.
I’d like to thank every player who is contributing in the forums and helping us to make Taborea a great place of history and adventure, heroes and enemies.
In the end I also have a warning for you. There is a rumor that some strange new inhabitants are in the dungeon. While we were working on the polishing process, some of the deeper foes escaped out of the boxes where we were storing them for further study, and we fear they might have escaped into the Ystra Labyrinth.
If you encounter a bunch of ghosts carrying corpses around, please do not feed them!
The rumor is that they have found a way to turn corpses into soldiers and they are struggling to control the darkness in the labyrinth now. There is word of a strange silver powder and a mighty being, hidden in the dark. We are not yet sure how this all connects and how to handle the situation, but if the rumors are true, we must stop them before it gets out of hand.
Please inform the local authorities in the Ystra Dungeon if you have any new information, and don’t try to handle the situation alone. This must be handled with extreme care and with the help of friends to repel the waves of enemies and stop the imminent danger…
Thank you :)
And there may be even more in the Ystra Dungeon, lurking in the next patch…