Thursday, November 1, 2012

2.14. Pulling the Pin

Descendants of Draenor defeats Magtheridon,
Magtheridon's Lair

An End to Tier 4

Magtheridon finally met his end at the hands of Descendants of Draenor on June 4th, a grueling six encompassing twelve individual nights of work. Bloodied and beaten, we scraped ourselves up off the floor to take our final kill-shot, while I ran through all the failures of this boss's design in my head. How many wasted attempts had we endured due to a lag spike or a disconnect from a cube-clicker? It was both an insufferable and inconsequential end to the first tier of raiding in The Burning Crusade. When Ragnaros fell by our hand, we raced into Blackwing Lair. But when Magtheridon died, we collapsed in exhaustion and disgust.

Were there screams of excitement in Vent? Absolutely. It was nearly as deafening as our first Nefarian kill, another boss that marked the end of a tier of content. Were we excited about the kill? Without question! We knew this was an incredibly difficult encounter that did not have a lot of kills on our server. Were we relieved? Most definitely. It was a huge relief to finally have the Magtheridon notch on our belts.

Did we want to go back?

Not a chance.

After spending that amount of time and effort for something so trivial in the end (several tier 4 chest tokens) we had no interest in returning. And that distaste towards the first tier of raiding in TBC set the stage for a multitude of problems we would soon have thrust upon us. This was the first real difference between raiding in TBC and raiding in Vanilla. When Nefarian finally fell by our hand, we couldn't wait to get back in Blackwing Lair the following week, clearing all over again. Mind you, we didn't always get him, even after we officially declared him on farm status. Our second 40-Man cleanup crew often left a mess themselves, which we had to sacrifice progression time for. Amid these apparent inconveniences, we cleared every boss along the way, which meant gear for many, many raiders, and plenty of practice on a wide variety of raid mechanics.

Descendants of Draenor celebrates their
kill of Magtheridon in Thrallmar,
Hellfire Penninsula

Regaining Control of the Situation

By contrast, there was really nothing to be gained by returning to Magtheridon's Lair; it was a pit of despair and sorrow. The trash prior Magtheridon dropped nothing of value, and only taught our raiders how to be disgusted at having their time wasted. Magtheridon was a linchpin boss that set the stage for a variety of encounters we would be force-fed throughout The Burning Crusade, all delivering an alleged common-theme from the powers that be at Blizzard: 

There is no margin for error in raiding. We demand perfection, regardless of the technical limits of the game or your system.

And while I am most certainly up to the task of meeting this new raised bar set by Blizzard, the linchpin encounter -- as designed -- demands that a certain margin of error exist, to adapt to those limitations that are implicit by nature. I cannot control the latency of my players, I can't control the performance of their computers...and perhaps with a hardcore guild, in which kicking the player to the curb may be an option, it wasn't for the type of guild we were striving to be. In order for the zero-margin-of-error linchpin to work, to provide adequate challenge but still work within the confines of the World of Warcraft infrastructure, one facet of control needed to remain intact:

If you insist on reducing the margin of error to nearly zero on a linchpin, then you must give us the ability to control who becomes the linchpin

Without that control, what practical options remain?

Yell at the player for failing? That only upsets the player. It doesn't make them play any better.

Keep practicing until they get it? Some players won't ever get it. In the real world, there are players that simply lack the capacity. No amount of practicing or yelling will make them do what you want them to do. They either lack the coordination and reflexes to perform the task you want, or their latency prevents them from doing it in a timely manner. If a person prefers a melee class over a tank, perhaps there is a reason for this. Perhaps they've come to terms with the fact that they aren't comfortable playing a tank, and never will.

Deal with the network disconnects / lag spikes and keep re-trying? If anyone at Blizzard is reading this blog, here's the secret: If you're worried that a duplicate raid (say, for example, a raid that exists in both 10- and 25-Man formats) expedites burnout, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't.

Giving us a raid like Magtheridon's Lair expedites burnout.

Kick them out of your guild and bring someone that can do it? Well, that works for hardcore guilds that care only about progression and not about the people themselves. That didn't work for us. We were trying to be respectful and supportive toward each other. That meant bringing players that didn't have the necessary reflexes to react in an emergency to filling in as a cube clicker.

An example of a well-designed
Linchpin boss: Professor Putricide,
Icecrown Citadel

The Right Way to Pin It

The best example I can think of in an encounter such as this is Professor Putricide. There are a wide array of complex mechanics at play in the Putricide encounter, but the success of the raid ultimately hinges on the player chosen to drive the Abomination. This is how a linchpin encounter with no room for error must work. Without that control, infrastructure impurities multiplied with personal incompetencies equate to an encounter that the raid is unable to adapt to when randomness spikes up. True raiders understand randomness, and know that it must be dealt with. But the tools must be present, a constant must exist to lean on, so that strategy can be built around such randomness.

We know that Blizzard had thought this through at least once before...back when we were in Naxxramas. Instructor Razuvious was a prime example of a zero-margin-of-error linchpin that allowed us some control over our own fate. Randomly forcing players into that role as a means of varying the raid's difficulty is lazy and short-sighted. Razuvious got it right. Remember, Haribo and Volitar weren't chosen at random to be Priest Tanks...we chose them. Give us the control to choose whom our weakest link will be, or widen the error margin enough so that we can adapt. You can have one or the other, but not both.

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With a deep sigh of relief, we officially stuck a fork in Tier 4 and called it done. It was ridiculous, logistically skewed (especially in regards to Karazhan's role in the mix), widened our eyes to accentuate personal responsibility, and set the precedent for how much forgiveness we could expect in the raids to come...

...little. If any at all.

We returned to Orgrimmar after celebrating the death of Magtheridon, and two of our players now boasted a complete set of Tier 4, the end result of a grueling ten week ordeal. It felt like we had been through a dozen bosses, yet we could only claim three completed encounters as our prize. As we wandered around the Orc city, one of only a skant few guilds on the server that had completed Magtheridon, I began to notice something that both startled and confused me. This thing was a direct result of a decision Blizzard had decided to go forward with in The Burning Crusade, without giving it a second thought. A decision that, in the face of the brutality dealt to us in the form of these past three encounters, was the equivalent to a slap in the face.

A decision that is undeniably Blizzard's First Mistake in World of Warcraft.

2 comments:

Russell said...

It's interesting how divergent viewpoints of raiding become. As far as I'm concerned, BC was the best raiding I ever experienced, but I never saw vanilla raiding. I loved watching the chaos of a first boss pull slowly converge to the execution of a kill. We went back and killed Mag a few times just to prove that our first kill wasn't a fluke, but it was a harrowing encounter and the loot didn't measure up to the trouble.

I respectfully disagree that having multiple versions of the same raid doesn't cause burnout; tier 9 was the *worst*. Having to run 10/25 normal/heroic Trial of the Crusader to gear as quickly as possible was horrible. Had Ulduar not preceded it and Icecrown Citadel not followed it, both of which were outstanding raids (especially Ulduar), I might have stopped right there (or shortly thereafter).

Mowo said...

I fully agree to Russell.

BC was the best raiding experience in the whole time i played WoW. The real setback was the recycling of Naxx and T9 was a horrible thing.

The fun i had in Karazhan was an awesome experience. Its a bit sad you missed that and didnt recognize the importance of Kara in T4.

Great blog so far.