Sunday, January 5, 2014

WoW: Gimmicks. Betcha Can't Design Just One

Last week I talked about gimmicks and what makes a gimmick, and sure I didn’t come to a perfectly good definition, I came close in my humble opinion. For review:

gim·mick [gim-ik]
4. In the context of a video game boss, anything that changes the default rules of the game, either by granting a new contextual ability (or abilities), redefining what it means for a boss or player to be defeated, or defining a player-induced trigger that alters the currently established rules of combat.

So are gimmicks bad, good, or just a thing?

Often times I hear folks talk about gimmicks, there’s an implied derision involved, as if they’re slightly distasteful. Why add extra hoops to jump through during a fight when you should be able to defeat it with just your class abilities?

Let’s go back to the list of “acceptable” non-gimmick mechanics: damage, adds, floor trying to kill you, tank swaps, interrupts. For the sake of argument I’ll leave splitting the raid off the list.

That’s an extremely small list. Now, they don’t really tell you everything. A tank swap could be required because of a stacking debuff on the tank (Halfus with less healing received, or a debuff that increases damage taken from a specific ability like on Norushen, or a stacking DoT link Feng), or the floor could be trying to kill you in any number of ways: circles, squares, strips, concentric circles, different damage types, applying debuffs or just plain killing you. Damage could be coming from debuffs to be dispelled, or a stacking AoE, or just melee damage. Overall, there’s some play within these mechanics.

But if that’s all the developers had to play with, raiding would get very dull, very quick. Just look at LFR, for example. Most of the mechanics, gimmick and non-gimmick alike, can be completely ignored. Which doesn’t make for a very satisfying fight in my personal opinion. Sure, I enjoy the occasional tank and spank to race the clock, but at the end of the day I’m fighting bosses because I want to defeat those challenges set up.

Looking at Siege of Orgrimmar, the following fights don’t have “gimmicks” in them: Dark Shaman (and that’s actually arguable because they share a health pool). Big list, eh? And most people introduce a “gimmick” on the fight by purposefully splitting the raid because it makes the mechanics easier to deal with.

Why is it that there are so few fights without gimmicks? Because all of the fights without gimmicks have been fought already. Take a look at bosses in Vanilla and TBC. They’re extremely simple (excepting fights like Netherspite, or a few in Naxx 40 which do have gimmicks to them). In a world of Deadly Boss Mods, Recount, and logging, where you’ve had players who’ve been raiding for nearly 10 years, how do you challenge them, but also not make the challenge so far above and beyond folks new to raiding?

Well, that would be to introduce new rules or mechanics. If everyone knows the basics of the game (how to play your class, and frankly, if you’re raiding at Normal and above, you should know your class or you’re doing your raid a disservice), then you trip people up by showing them something new. But WoW is by far and away not the first game series to do that. How many folks have played Mega Man?
Mega Man Bosses. Gimmick city. Classic game play.

The Mega Man series is considered one of the best platformer-shooters around for the time period, and even today. And how did they keep things fresh without making them impossible for new players? By changing the rules. What killed Cutman in Mega Man was a lot different from what would kill Quick Man in Mega Man 2. Fights were puzzles to be solved, but if you were particularly good at the game, you could ignore the puzzle and brute-force many bosses. Sound familiar? Basically, changing things up is a tried and true design tool for boss encounters.

The other half of the story is movement and the like. At this point, folks are pretty used to at least getting out of the bad, but if the only thing you really want to do is use your class’ abilities and nothing else, perhaps you should go play a JRPG instead, where everything you do is menu-driven. There’s no movement, no space, nothing. WoW has characters who can move in 3D space. They can jump, they backpedal, they can turn around and face in another direction. So the game space has all of these concepts, why is it bad to utilize those concepts when designing a boss?

A fantastic example for this are the Twin Consorts in Throne of Thunder. Drawing the symbols (which was very Okami) on the ground to activate certain effects? I think that was the most fun I’ve had in a boss fight ever. Sure those effects could be mostly ignored on Normal and you would still win (heck, my raid one shot that fight the first time we saw it), but it was still a blast.

Thaddius, a Vanilla then Wrath boss, was a fun one too with the jump in it, despite a large number of folks who had issues making those jumps. Or when you can avoid abilities like Quake in Stonecore by jumping at the right time. Sure, the healers could heal through it, but it was a fun bonus if you could make it and avoid the damage entirely.

So in my opinion, gimmicks are a good thing. They keep the game fresh, they compress the learning curve (veterans can still use a lot of their acquired skills, but they still need to learn new mechanics like everyone else), and they give us interesting boss fights. I’m not interested in fighting Patchwerk and Onyxia 1.0 over and over again. But I am interested to see what new encounters the designers come up with.

1 comment:

  1. Netherspite from Karazhan is still one of the memorable encounters for me just because it introduced new concepts of positioning to a boss fight rather than just don't stand in the bad circle.

    I definitely agree, taking the same old "deeps till it's dead" and switching it up time keeps things fresh and engaging, and gimmick or not is better than rehashing the same old boss mechanics