Nerd Rage! It’s 2011, Where the Hell is My Dynamic Instancing?

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I remember participating in my first raid in World of Warcraft. The feverish excitement of finally cracking one of the big instances in the game had me almost giddy with thoughts of being part of some heroic undertaking. When we finally started, the raid leader led us through the instance with constant commands, such as, “Walk up to this line here, but don’t go over so you don’t aggro that passing patrol” and “Hug the east wall so as to avoid the flames that shoot out of the west wall.” My heroic dreams were dashed on the hard shoals of mundane reality where epic questing was reduced to following a pattern or making sure that you only color within the lines. Where was the sense of exploration and joy of discovery? What about the adrenaline rush of a sudden ambush where the entire party had to scramble to survive? Sorry, gamers, but don’t look for such things here. Instead, we just follow a dull pattern of Step A, Step B, Step C, and so on.

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Glad we followed the same old steps to this boss...yawn.

Why can’t we have dynamic instancing? What if every time we entered an instance, the layout was different with varying mobs of creatures? How about having differing loot drops and traps at different locations? That way, every time we go into an instance, we get that joy of discovery and our sense of accomplishment is even greater at conquering it. What is so special about following the same boring pattern time after time?

What makes this even more frustrating is that we know that dynamic instancing can be done. Let’s set the Wayback Machine to the year 1996 when Diablo came out. In Diablo, we had fixed points for the various dungeon instances, but when you entered the dungeon, it was randomly generated. The layout, the mobs, and the loot were all created when you stepped in. The only fixed feature was the room with the final boss, and even that room was randomly located on a fixed level. If the big boss was to be found on level three, then his fixed room was always on level three, but you didn’t know where it was to be found on that level as it was randomly placed.

Random layout of a dungeon...holy crap!

The creatures you fought in each dungeon could vary each time you entered the dungeon. That was a great feature that allowed for a large amount of replayability. Fight mostly skeletons the first time around? The next time you might fight zombies or wraiths! Plus, the placement of the mobs would vary due to the random layout of the dungeon. Even later games, such as Left 4 Dead, have random mobs of zombies if the game’s AI thinks that the party is taking their time or spending too much time in one location. In addition, the location of weapons and ammo is slightly randomized in Left 4 Dead, where each level has several locations where those supplies might be found.

All of this brings us to today. There are no dynamic instances to be found in the popular MMOGs, only static instances that never change. Why? To quote the Six Million Dollar Man, “We have the technology.” I know that many people will cry about balance issues and carefully constructed encounters, but I say bullcrap to that! Did Diablo and Diablo II come off as unbalanced? The answer is no! Sometimes you could be overwhelmed, but you could then run away. Plus, the difficulty of the creatures scaled with the number of players as well as the quality of the loot drops. It’s despicable that we can’t apply features from a game that’s 15 YEARS OLD to games made today.

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Wouldn't it be awesome if traps were randomly placed? It'll keep you on your toes!

I know that graphics have improved since 1996, but the increased graphic detail does not render dynamic instancing impossible. A solid design could easily incorporate the ability to pair up high-end graphic templates with compatible templates. An example would be a large airy chamber that is domed should have a very low chance to lead to a cramped narrow hallway, but more likely to other large chambers. Plus, we could also incorporate random traps (even though only Dungeons and Dragons Online really uses traps on a regular basis) to keep the parties on their toes. Random placements of mobs, with the chance of spawning a larger mob if large area-affect spells such as fireballs are used.

Would you rather go into an instance where the layout was different each time you entered, along with a variation of the creatures to be encountered therein rather than go into the same plodding instance where you just follow a pattern to get through? Personally, my choice would be for the dynamic instance. Instead of hugging a wall to avoid aggro in a large chamber, wouldn’t it be more exciting that as you crossed a chamber, crossbow traps were triggered that shot bolts from one of the room’s walls? The triggering of the trap captures the attention of the patrol in the room that then attack the party. A few lightning bolts and fireballs are unleashed on the foes, which then triggers a fresh mob of reinforcements to pour into the room. After the fight, you come to an intersection in the hallway…do you go left or right? Which way to the lair of the dungeon’s lord? There’s only way to find out, and that is to explore.

It makes me want to weep that we've had the ability for dynamic instances for 15 years!

We could have all of what I just described if game companies wouldn’t take the easy way out of designing instances, and we players willing to accept the same old repetitive dungeons of old. We have the ability to create fully dynamic instances and we’ve had it for fifteen years! Don’t you think it’s about time we use the technology to really enhance the gameplay of today’s MMOGs rather than lame attempts to redo crafting or skill trees? The core of any game is questing in a dungeon or instance, and that is where we should demand the change from a static environment to a dynamic one. My God, there are still people avidly playing Diablo II, which came out in 2000. If you make it, they will come, but not only that, they will stay.

Agree with me or think I’m just a grouchy old bastard? Let me know!
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