All the World a Dungeon

In his collated recap of the recent flying controversy, Wilhelm casually asks a question that completely redefines the debate for me and explains Blizzard’s behavior up to now:

For me, the great unanswered question in all of this remains how much control over their game should a developer be allowed, whether or not the dev’s view of how their game should be played should trump the player’s view, whether MMO studios be dictating a “right way” to play and should players accept that or not?

Mind. Blown. If you aren’t already having the same epiphany as me, buckle up.

See, I realize now that this entire flying debate hasn’t been able flying per se, it has been about the tension between the content creators and the content consumers. The Blizzard team doesn’t just want a curated experience anymore, they want a directed experience. Your questing on Draenor isn’t just grounded, it’s on rails. When was the last time you actually found a shortcut up to that cave in the mountains? For me this expansion, it was never – I was stymied by invisible walls and frictionless slopes at every turn. Clearly, the desire is a linear path between A & B, no deviation or skipping game mechanics allowed.

In fact, Ion Hazzicostas said exactly this when talking about introducing more Flight Paths as a flight consolation prize:

The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point [b] but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point.

Something kept bothering me about this reasoning though. Flying apparently breaks immersion, but Ion doesn’t seem to give two shits about adding more and more Flight Paths to the world to maximize convenience, despite them being the most immersion-breaking thing imaginable. Seriously, who doesn’t Alt-Tab out of the game on a Flight Path? Getting on one might as well be a 1-2 minute loading screen for a dungeon.

Wait a second. Dungeon. Dungeon. Ion Hazzikostas. It all makes sense!

Cue the flashback montage.

Cue the flashback montage.

Ion Hazzikostas is designing the world (of Warcraft) as a series of instanced dungeons. Not literally, of course. But as a lead designer who specifically worked on all the dungeons and raids introduced since Wrath, his reasoning up to this point makes total and complete sense in this context.

Dungeons are extremely directed experiences. You have to kill these mobs in this way in this order to face the boss. Dungeon mobs are dangerous and patrols can wipe the group, unlike any outdoor mob since, say, the Fel Reaver. You cannot mount in most dungeons, and even in the ones you can, there isn’t any flying (Oculus notwithstanding). Hell, even ground mounts can’t save you because dungeon mobs don’t leash.

Dungeons are everything that Ion wants outdoor questing in Draenor to be, because that is all that Ion knows how to design.

So there it is. We don’t have Scenarios in Draenor because quests are our Scenarios. Apexis dailies are our dungeons. And the actual dungeons? Unrewarding afterthoughts thrown in out of habit. Or perhaps more simply, the result of a drained lead designer who had just finished crafting a dungeon the size of the world.

It is hard to even be mad at Ion. Creating instanced, on-rails experiences is his whole job, and one that he is good at. When you hammer stuff all day, it makes perfect sense that every problem starts looking nail-like. The struggle comes from the unanswered questions Wilhelm presented earlier. Should outdoor questing content be treated like instanced, directed content?

I believe the answer is clearly “No.” Instanced content has its place, as do the limitations that make it more challenging. Outdoor content, by it’s very nature, resists and rejects those limitations. Enemy encampments aren’t “more dangerous” when grounded, by any stretch of the imagination. I could run through any one of them a dozen times while mounted and be fine. Preventing an aerial assault just makes the task of killing trivial mobs take a minute or two longer.

It is for these reasons that I believe Ion and whomever else is taking his side on the development team are going about this the wrong way. I enjoy story quests as much as the next guy, but the direction should come from the tasks, not the manner in which I complete them. If you want players sticking around an enemy encampment instead of clicking on a cage and flying away, how about making the quest more involved than clicking on a cage? Or, hell, maybe they could implement a system in which it would matter how I completed it. There is already bonus quest objective tech in place, so add something in there like “completed without flying.” More carrot and less stick.

Especially given how I can already mount and ride past the stick at any time.

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Posted on June 12, 2015, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Intriguing argument, at least from an inertial point of view. It certainly would explain the almost hyper-lineal feel of questing content, but I’m not so sure you can lay that at Ion’s feet. Unless he’s been in charge of quests since Cataclysm I think it’s heavily ingrained in the company. And I understand to a large extent that limiting or removing flying is so much easier than having to either phase/gate every quest in a zone. But then using phasing as it was in Cata is essentially instancing everything anyhow.

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  2. How is this any different from MoP where you had to finish specific quest chains to open other areas/zones? WoW has been a open dungeon linear experience for a while; it didn’t start with WoD.

    Plus lets not forget, dungeons in WoW weren’t always linear. Under Old Blizzard you had stuff like MC (made in a week no less) with branching paths, stuff like the scarlet wings with path/pull opens, and basically all of Dire Maul. Even Karazan wasn’t point A to point B linear. I’m sure plenty of other examples exist as well.

    Designing linear content that works is easier than more open-ended content, starting from linear questing and all the way up to making a sandbox is harder than a themepark. As the talent drained from Blizzard, they go more and more towards easier-to-produce content.

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    • I guess I should have been more clear in what I meant. It’s not about linear questing (doing quest A, then quest B, etc), it’s about the designers wanting to dictate the exact manner in which you complete the quest and control everything else around it. Who cares that level-capped players can fly around and “trivialize” the quests? Ion and company apparently cares, because the world of Draenor has been constructed to specifically limit you in nearly every other way. The quest hubs are not usually dependent on one another, which is a huge change from Cataclysm (etc). But while you are doing quests for that hub, there is just one way up the mountain, one approach to the enemy encampment, and apparently super-important that you never be able to fly right to the mobs you need.

      As for the ease of producing said content, I’m not so sure. Direction and, for lack of a better term, choreographing linear content takes a lot of specialized attention. Conversely, it’s easy to just drop twenty respawning mobs in an area and call it a day. Coming up with mechanisms so that the sandbox feels like directed content is much harder, I agree.

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  3. Allow me to be the one to claim that the real issue is that the outdoor camps/mobs arenot dangerous in the first place. I am hugely pro-grounding in mmorpg’s but with wow as it is today, grounding people doesnt fix the problem the developers seem to want to fix. As you say yourself… You just ride right through the mobs instead (perhaps getting annoyed that you cant scale the cliff, but not having to solve any “problems” with mobs). Grounding people is supposed to instill a sense of danger and/or gameplay back into the open world, but that would require the obstacles to feel like a challenge rather than a speedbump. If getting up the hill/through the camp engages me/challenges me the gameplay rising from grounding me is positive. If it annoys me/slows me down/sends me on a linear easy to spot detour, then grounding me actually detracts from my experience.
    If more open world content in WOD was of the first sort, rather than the latter, grounding would serve the effect the developers want. As too much (not all fcause) of it is more akin to roadbumbs/detours than to puzzles/challenges, I am glad that they found the compromise they did.

    I would be happier still though if they just “fixed” the open world content to be dangerous again :-) (try soloing an open world gnoll or murlock camp in vanilla wow, this is what i mean by dangerous), once that is done, I wont mind being grounded :-)

    Shandren out

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    • I can mostly agree with that argument. Although I might perhaps point out that once you are on the ground and fighting, dangerous mobs are dangerous regardless of your ability (or lack thereof) to take off afterwards.

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  4. Of cause there might be tons of people that prefer the current level of dangerous ess to that of vanilla, for various reasons. The above only portraits my personal wishes

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  5. Yeah while fighting the mobs, it of cause doesnt matter whether you can fly or not. But flying allows two ways of lowering difficulty. While in camps, it can serve as a safe haven between hard fights, much the same way as stealth can, making patrols, potential respawns,etc less deadly. And while en route to a destination it can allow you to ignore any and all mobs except those directly linked to the very site of the questobject, again much the same way as stelth can. The same benefit rogues/druids had in allowing them to engage in fights on their own terms, was given to everyone. The are some important differences between flying and stealthing however. 1: speed, 2: exclusivety and 3 engagement/feel.
    1 with high speed there is no choice between risking it the grounded way or taking the safe and slower route. And it becomes a valid overland travel option as well.
    2 before flight rogues/druids had a huge advantage in openworld content, they could skip needless grinds, pick specific fights etc. This felt cool because it was a boon of the class, something that came with a specific set of drawbacks as well. After flight they retained the advantage in instanced content, but they lost some of it in open world content. When one or teo classes have an ability that radically enters the way they interact with the world, that helps class diversity…
    3. Shortly put (if i am capable of that) flying past mobs is not good gameplay. Whereas stealthing past the same mobs, while the result is the same (mostly) involves a minimum of thought and spatial awareness so as to not get aggro. Flying as a mean of bypassing mobs is less engaging. About the feel that might mostly be a personal thing, but i think the fantasy of the stealthy rogue cleverly sneaking past his enemies to strike with precision at the heart of the organization (the named questmob) is a more common one, than that of a brave warrior, flying over the heads of his enemies to strike with precision at the…. Etc.

    Bear in mind that this doesnt mean that flying is only bad, or anything like that… Soaring free over the lands, aerial drops into enemy territory, etc. All of that is nice. The point where i start to dislike it is where it becomes a conveniance thing, rather than a “this is cool/engaging/awesome”… And in my mind wow is waaay past that point. But that goes for most of its gameplay anyways.

    Shandren out

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  6. Sooo many typos…. Sorry, hope it is readable

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