Trash and Tuning
Rewards for Trash
The next topic discussed was about everyone's favorite raid issue... Trash! They started by showing a very funny video of Molten Core 2.0 optimized as requested by raiders. It was funny since all the trash had been removed and you went from one boss to the other, all the way from twin Domo's as the first pull, through Ragnaros with a pet, through to Arthas himself at the end. Everyone loved it. The discussion then turned serious and discussed why trash is there and how they tune it.
Trash was described as being there for two main reasons, the first one was pacing and the other to let all classes a chance to shine. Pacing is about giving people a break between the ultra difficult bosses and to ensure an instance feels like it should. After all would beating Molten Core have felt as good with just 10 fights? Trash also allows Blizzard to put effects on bosses that really effect or limit some classes, while still allowing that class to have a utility in the instance. For example mages can not poly bosses but can still polymorph trash, resistance was another example.
Balancing the trash in an instance was a huge discussion but came down to 5 key issues: density, kill time, difficulty, respawn rate and reward. They let every at the discussion know that these 5 things are always up for discussion and they do listen. They do not and will never listen to comments asking for the removal of all trash. They gave excellent descriptions of all the issues and examples of where and when they listened and changed things. It was amazing to see how many things have been tuned that we take for granted. It was also interesting to hear about all the stats they have access to use and how they use them to solve issues.
Density - Don't want to many, there for pacing. Examples of too many are: Hyjal (already tuned down the waves), The library in Karazhan, Scholomance and more.
Kill Time - Affected by too many HP, abilities or immunities. Examples of bad kill time are: Fel Overseers, Mana Feeders, and Bog Lords.
Difficulty - Trash should not be likely to cause a wipe, should not be overly complex or require boss like attention. Overly difficult trash include: Lava Packs, Anubiseth, and post Twin Emps trash.
Respawn Rates - Are there to create a sense of urgency, prevent unlimited tries and provide break points. It was said that it helps the raid leader at some point say "enough is enough, we can't beat this boss with this group". An example of very good respawn rates was given as Attumen the Hunter in Karazhan. While not that hard, its a nice gate effect.
Reward - Should give enough reward that you want to come back for it. Previously this had been missed on occasion and examples of it being added are upcoming changes to add rep and loot to the trash in Hyjal and the Monstrous Kaliri that plague you on daily quests.
Having everything explained and seeing examples of what is good and bad, and how they learned from it, was very enlightening. The willingness in which they said, "This was great, and this we screwed up on" was also very good. You could see that they care about it and were trying their best and learning as they went. I wish everyone that complains about trash could have listened to the discussion as it really gives you an appreciation of how hard it is to balance.
The last part of the discussion panel was all about boss encounters and was just as enlightening as the trash tuning section. Scott (the lead encounter designer) started the discussion talking about the basics of boss design.
They start by looking at what the encounter is for, as they add in much more complicated elements to a full raid than a 10 man raid or 5 man instance. Once that is determined they look at what gear players are expected to have, either as specific items (such as the Onyxia cloak for the BWL fights), level of gear or resistance gear. They then need to look at how the fight fits into lore or the location and then how it fits in with the other bosses in the instance.
Once the basics are done, they move on to the various challenges they use. The come in several types: math challenges, complex plans, individual responsibility, endurance tests and random elements. They then tie all those together to come up with something that works.
Math Challenges - Generally referred to as gear check fights. These test such things as whether you can take enough burst damage, how much healing you have, how much dps you can put out, and more. Examples given where Patchwork as a burst damage check and Gruul as a DPS check, since Gruul grows stronger the longer the fight goes. These are there to prevent cheating the system and using tactics that are not fun or meant to be used. For example taking 5 tanks and 20 healers and taking an hour to win a fight.
Complex Plans - These fights are to ensure there is communication and skill in the group. They involve multiple tasks and targets (as in Kael'thas and his 5 phases), Movement and positioning (as in the Shade of Aran fight) and Unique mechanics (as in the Black Morass being one long running fight). All of these are meant to offer challenge and test abilities.
Making players accountable
Individual Responsibility - This is used to make sure players pay attention and everyone is responsible for their actions. This ensures that the group is only as strong as the weakest link. A prime example is Baron Geddon in Molten Core with his "Bomb" buff, Murmur in Shadow Labs, and Buru's random tanking/kiting target.
Endurance Tests - These fights challenge your endurance and make sure you can perform at a high level for a length of time. After all with an increased fight time there is an increased chance of making a mistake. They also force mana management and tie it to DPS output since the more DPS you have the less time mana and health need to last on everyone.
Random Elements - While randomness is present in all encounters due to math and percentages, it is also used to add challenge, tension and drama. While sometimes it seems like it only ever hurts the players, it can help them at times as well. Well Blizzard really likes the random elements, they admitted in some cases it just doesn't work and they are toning it back soon in several encounters.
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