Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ulduar - The Trivial Pursuit raid dungeon

As witnessed in the Tribunal of Ages event in Halls of Stone, Ulduar is home of something that can only be described as an ancient computer, built by the titans, and storing all the knowledge of the world. Based on that lore, Blizzard just announced a huge surprise: The raid dungeon Ulduar to be introduced in patch 3.1 will be have elements of the Trivial Pursuit board game. Blizzard bought the rights to use the full catalogue of nearly 1 million different questions from Hasbro. The Ulduar raid dungeon will have six wings (Geography (blue), Entertainment (pink), History (yellow), Arts & Literature (brown), Science & Nature (green), and Sports & Leisure (orange)), with 3 bosses each. The bosses have none of the usual special abilities, and are tank & spank, but at 75%, 50, and 25% of health, every raid member gets a window popping up with a Trivial Pursuit question, and three possible answers. Every player in the raid will have to click on the right answer to his question inside of 5 seconds, or he'll explode, die, and deal a serious amount of damage to the players around him. You can heal through one player getting it wrong, but not several. The first boss of each wing has the easiest questions, and the last boss the hardest. The timer is designed short enough that googling the answer would take too long, and as every player gets a different question, and there are so many of them, knowing the answer beforehand from some strategy site will be impossible.

Blizzard commented that for years players had demanded that raids be more skill-based, and the new system would obviously favor the most skilled and knowledgeable players. Also the 25-man version would automatically be more difficult, as frequently requested, because of the higher likelyhood of somebody getting a question wrong and hurting his fellow raid members in the explosion. The explosion mechanism prevents less skilled players to leech of more skilled players. So Blizzard feels that this is exactly what raiders have been asking for.

Relax, of course I'm joking. But like all of my jokes, there are serious game design questions behind the preposterous proposal. Because while Blizzard is extremely unlikely to design raid boss encounters on Trivial Pursuit questions, the interesting thing is that it would be totally possible. Lots of people would hate it and protest loudly, but others would start the race to be the first to beat Trivial Pursuit Ulduar, and some people would even like it more than the regular raids. The serious question is what extra skill exactly are raids demanding, and would there be other possibilities?

The question arose from the quote from Melmoth I linked to in the previous post, where he compared raiding to playing Super Mario Brothers. He was commenting particularly on the Sartharion encounter, where you need to look whether the flame waves come from the left side or the right side, and position yourself accordingly. But he could have said something similar about the Heigan encounter in Naxxramas, or other similar encounters where it becomes important where you stand. But fact is that in World of Warcraft you can level to 80 and get a good enough set of gear to start raiding without ever having worried about where to stand. Positioning becoming important is exclusive to raid bosses, and a few level 80 dungeon bosses. And as Melmoth so correctly said, this additional required "skill" for raiding successfully is something many people picked up by playing other video games, especially platformers.

The reason so many people would complain if Blizzard really introduced Trivial Pursuit Ulduar is that this raid dungeon would require a completely *different* set of skills. Somebody who is good at staying out of the fire in a current raid encounter would not necessarily be good at answering Trivial Pursuit questions correctly in 5 seconds. But other players who have problems with the video game skills required by some of the current raid bosses could possibly do much better when general knowledge were the required skill to kill a boss.

So, if quick positioning isn't part of the pre-raid game of World of Warcraft, why is it a part of raid encounters? And apart from that and Trivial Pursuit, what other "skills" could we design a raid encounter to require?

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