Old-School WoW Raiding and the Design of Difficulty

There’s been an interesting discussion going on through the blogosphere over the last few days about difficulty in raids, and just how it can be designed.

It all started off when Klepsacovic of Troll Racials are Overpowered posted a piece about how WoW fight dances can challenge different player levels

“Tobold had a useful classification which I can’t find, but it roughly divided raids into three types: One stressed a few pre-selected players (Garr banishers, jugglers in ICC), another stresses the average (any DPS check), while the last stresses the worst players (puddlefire on Arthas). The first allows for good players to carry the raid, whether with good or bad players, meaning that if you can find a few solid players, they aren’t likely to leave because the raids are succeeding. The second allows good players to carry bad players, but they must make an extra effort (or tuning must be low enough), so that they may down the boss but still feel cheated. Finally the last encourages serial dumping of the lowest players because no one can help them and even gear may not fix the problem.

I think WoW has been shifting from the second category (average) with some use of superstars (seriously, I was awesome at banishing, I even figured out how to make it something worth bragging about because I was so awesome) to ever more of the third type.”

Syl of Raging Monkeys then built upon that blog post a couple of days later, with a dissection of how the change from Vanilla to now has affected raid leaders and raid makeup

“I don’t wish to be in a guild where every person is exactly like me (despite a healthy narcissism, that’s just boring). Nor do I mind slower learners or players who simply fail at the odd mechanic, and those who might fall behind a little due irregular playtime – as long as you can compensate for them somehow during specific encounters. (Assuming of course that they’re otherwise awesome).

“Only, this gradually stopped being the case in WoW after the 40man era. Encounters became highly technical, focused on individual performance and unforgiving in ways that wouldn’t let us make up for lower bracket players – there was suddenly a real, hard line. We could only stand by and watch with increasing frustration as they went through the motions, again and again. We became helpless spectators of our guildmates’ ordeals, despite all guidance given. Worse: they started to become the “enemy”. If 100+ wipes into a boss, the same few people are still stuck at beginner mistakes, it’s human to start feeling resentful. “

Together, these two posts comprise a fascinating theory as to how we’ve gotten from the Vanilla WoW feeling to the anonymous Cataclysm days. Whilst many people talk about the LFD tool, it’s not just that, but something far more complex – and Syl and Klep together have picked out a large part of the issue.

Meanwhile, on a parallel thread, Are We New At This posts part of a grand retrospective on Vanilla WoW raiding days, which further highlights all the changes between then and now

“In the winter of 2006, Patch 1.9 finally hit, and all manner of pissed off Qiraji warriors started pouring out of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj and infecting Azeroth. This was a great event for many reasons, poor implementation and unforeseen server crashes notwithstanding. First, the guild was hungry for new content; little did they know that the content would kick their ass into oblivion, but hey, at last we had something new and interesting to do. Second, the opening of the gates was an epic event. There were cross-continent quests, feats that needed to be completed in large numbers, and an invasion of Silithus and adjoining areas by innumerable Qiraji and their allies for us to fight off.

“The quest involved building the Scepter of the Sifting Sands, which in turn required tracking down the Red, Blue and Green shards (each with their own quest lines). This scepter was then used to bang a gong outside the gates, triggering a 10-hour event. And this was the easy part.”

I’ve not thought about the Scepter of the Sands event in years, but it’s clear just from reading the description that it could never happen these days in WoW. Events requiring the server to cooperate are a thing of the past – maybe that’s a necessity, maybe it’s just a pity.

And that ties in to Syl’s discussion of the pre-raid requirements of Vanilla – which required you to learn how to cooperate, play your role, and socialise with other players – and all of it ties back to Klep’s discussion of a raiding environment that has moved from stressing the best to stressing the worst.

Interesting stuff.

*What do you think of how the raiding environment’s changed?