On Headshots and Dynamic Content

I used to spend a lot of time designing RPG systems with my friends. This hobby was born out of both frustration with the existing systems we had for various genres (so close! yet so far away!) and a genuine enjoyment in tinkering with games. We’d write up a set of rules, run a few play tests, tweak, and repeat the process. Sometimes we’d move the system we came up with over to different genres and see how it fared; other times we’d try completely off the wall ideas and just see what worked.

One of the questions we always asked was how to deal with the gun-at-the-head problem. This is a simple problem to phrase, but not always simple to answer within a RPG:

What happens if you put a gun to a PC’s head and pull the trigger?

The very first RPG systems, based around miniature gaming, didn’t deal well with this kind of question. If you took a sword to someone, the rules stated they did a certain amount of damage. If the person had more hit points than the weapon could do, they would survive. As characters gained hit points, the percentage loss fell, making them effectively invulnerable to a single attack, no matter how it was presented. It doesn’t matter where you hit them or how you hit them.

Much of this problem was ameliorated by having a reasonable game master, of course, but it exposes a fundamental problem with the concept of increasing health in a game and realism versus gameplay. Realistically, human beings can get one-shot by all sorts of things – falling pianos, automobiles, knives, guns, poison, elevator shafts (only on soap operas, though) – without adding fantastic elements into it like dragons and spaceships and aliens and mutant radioactive cowboys. But within the context of a heroic game of any kind, we have to suspend realism – a bit – and make up the concept of being able to handle those kinds of events.

The great thing about RPGs is that there’s no right answer here to how you proceed with this suspension disbelief – it all depends on the game you want to play. AD&D explained Hit Points as a combination of many different survival factors – luck, ability to avoid blows, skill in defense, maybe magical defenses – that allowed for characters to fight dragons and survive. Twilight 2000 took a far more realistic (and fatal for PC) approach, with detailed combat hit tables that could spell a head shot. I couldn’t even conceive of getting too attached to a character in that system; I swear I rolled a new one every game session. White Wolf’s Mind’s Eye Theater had a very elegant staged system (before the Revised edition came along and required PDA-based combat) that emphasized that combat was a terrible idea, because you could die really easily if you hadn’t designed your character to survive it. Paranoia gave you six clones and assumed they would all die in hilariously gruesome ways.

Does your character die, or not die, when that trigger is pulled, that is the question.

Game Master discretion played heavily into a lot of the highly fatal game systems. Most (but not all) look at the game and tell the GM, if this death doesn’t make sense, don’t let it happen. If it does make sense, let it happen.

In the World of Warcraft there are no Game Masters, no judges you can appeal to for character survival or death. The computer is your master, All Hail the Computer.


I bring up the gun-to-the-head question because it brings to the forefront a real problem when talking about WoW – is it really an RPG? I think it’s safe to say it’s not a traditional RPG, though you can comfortably role play within it. There’s a spectrum of immersion that goes from complete (detailed character histories, interaction, all actions are taken in character) to practically non-existent (arthasdklol), but even within the most jaded anti-RPer’s experience are role playing elements. There’s art, there’s story, there’s questing. There are different worlds to play in. Raids are not abstract exercises – they are a digital simulation of an environment. You are not just playing a digital object which has properties and affects other digital objects through predetermined routines – you’re playing a hunter, a priest, a mage. You’re raiding Ulduar or Firelands or Trial of the Crusader.  The RPG elements are always there.

But there are many concessions to the truth that this is a computer game based on gear acquisition that break RPG immersion. I’m not talking about things like language barriers or profession limits, unchanging zones or any of the other things that are design decisions, or part of being an MMO. Warcraft’s systems are set up to drive you to acquire more and better gear.

1. Levels introduce artificial barriers to encourage leveling.

What is to stop a young Tauren brave from wearing the mighty gear of his elders? Get your head out of WoW for a moment – what is to stop him from putting on the physical garb which conveys these great bonuses? What prevents him, exactly, from picking up an epic mace dropped by Deathwing himself and smashing opponents around him? Okay, let’s say the mace isn’t from Deathwing. Why not a level 60 mace? Or a level 35? How does that work, exactly?

Plenty of games encourage leveling through the promise of more power. You get more skills, you get more points to assign to abilities, you get more talents or feats or whatever. WoW has a lot of that – riding, flying, professions, etc. – but it differs in that it uses gear as a motivation. Other games give out better gear as a result of more challenging opportunities – you can take your level 2 characters in to see an adult red dragon, but they probably won’t come out alive – but they don’t explicitly limit gear to levels.

The Hit mechanic is another example of this kind of artificial barrier used to prompt players to level. It’s interesting playing with a level 19 twink who has more health than most mobs in level 30-40 zones, who does enough damage (at level 19) to tackle those zones, but to be unable to effectively function because everything misses. There’s no real reason Cynderblock can’t hit the raptors in Arathi Highlands, except that the rules say so to promote the idea that leveling is important.

(Also, Crushing Blows can bite me.)

2. Levels grant abilities, but require better gear to maintain the same level of effectiveness.

In AD&D, a +3 sword is a +3 sword, no matter what level the wielder is. More powerful characters have more magic items (and more powerful ones) but there is no scaling in efficacy. WoW is radically different: as your character levels, that +3 sword becomes less and less effective. All combat stats decay; Hit, Haste, Crit, Resilience are obvious examples of this (you need more points to achieve the same percentage at higher levels), but even straightforward things like a weapon’s DPS will indirectly decay due to higher health pools of opponents. (e.g. If you used a 5.0 DPS sword to kill a wolf in Northshire, each swing takes off a certain percentage of the wolf’s health. Using that same sword to kill a wolf in Northrend would result in a far weaker attack.)

If you don’t acquire gear as you level, you will quickly find yourself unable to function effectively. The Ironman Challenge is a good example of what happens if you continue to wear white-quality clothing throughout the leveling process. It gets really hard, really fast.

3. Endgame content releases are designed around increasing gear power, not character power.

It’s strange to write it that way, because it’s such a fundamental part of what WoW’s endgame is. But there you have it. The endgame removes the acquisition of additional abilities, talents, skills, and replaces leveling with additional tiers of content. There is no fundamental difference between a fresh level 85 character and one who has been playing at 85 for a year, except for their gear.

And that gear will determine what content they are able to participate in.

In a tabletop fantasy RPG this gets handled differently. It’s hard to set aside the idea that you don’t gain experience for actions in AD&D, but let’s try for a moment. Let’s say you hit the end of a campaign and the big confrontations are happening. You’re level 20 and stuff is epic. You might realize that you need a specific magic item to tackle the final challenge, or that you’re not strong enough and need to recruit others. Or it happens without you being able to prepare for it – you go in with your wits and your sword and your luck and hope for the best.

You don’t sit there and say, I need to go grind out points in dungeons so I can tackle the dragon.

4. Gearing/leveling make all damage, and therefore encounter difficulties, relative.

The ultimate nail in the coffin of the gun-to-your-character’s-head scenario is that the combination of gear and levels make every encounter highly relative. Realism gets thrown out the window when you can’t even sit down and say “a gun does X amount of damage.” Which gun is it? What level is the person wielding it? What are they wearing? What about the person getting shot, what level are they, what are they wearing?

Warcraft makes it so that you can’t make statements like, a punch does 1-2 points of damage modified for strength, a gun does 1-6 modified for dexterity, a sword does 1-8, which in turn means you can’t evaluate that and say, yeah, a gun could kill an average person or not. No. In WoW a gun might do 10-35 damage or 4000-5000 points of damage, and the target might have 100 health or 150 million health. A punch from a level 85 character could kill half a village in terms of raw damage.

This kind of system suspends realism in favor of in-game power.

It’s interesting playing through a lot of the revamped leveling zones in Cataclysm. The presence of elite Forsaken and Gilnean troops in Silverpine brings to the forefront that while these mobs are badasses for your level, they’re still like… level 25 elites. Objectively, they’re not that tough. Level up a bit and come kick their asses later. But doing so breaks the immersion of the story – you might be Sylvanas’ most trusted soldier, but let’s face it, a level 60 Forsaken with decent gear could beat the entire Gilnean army without breaking a sweat.

I think it’s even more interesting when Warcraft suddenly decides that it’s going to follow realistic logic. Nobody gets one-shot in World of Warcraft by a gun to the head, right?

Well, right up until Sylvanas gets killed by Godfrey in Silverpine Forest, that rule pretty much makes sense. But suddenly she’s dead, and you’re like, wtf, can’t you move out of the pistol barrage?

And then you realize, no, the most powerful Forsaken on Azeroth just got one shot by a pistol. Anyone can die at any time.

(As long as they’re NPCs in a cutscene.)

We need to keep this in mind when we talk about level-appropriateness of zones.


Kleps over at Troll Racials Are Overpowered had an interesting article today about how level 85s shouldn’t do low level battlegrounds. It’s an interesting read, and though I had a couple of knee-jerk reactions this morning, I sat down and thought about it for a while. And it’s an interesting proposition, even if I don’t agree with it.

I tried to step back from my position that battlegrounds having the highest replay value in the game and really see what Kleps’ is saying, how battlegrounds and dungeons are handled in such radically different ways.

  • Dungeons get easier as you level and acquire gear.
  • Battlegrounds remain more or less the same as you go.

This variability of difficulty doesn’t have anything to do with the inherent nature of either dungeons or battlegrounds. While there are some abilities which make different maps easier (having mounts for large terrain expanses), generally none of them render a map unplayable. It’s nice to be able to mount up and run in ZF or AB, but you can run LFD without it. You can play AB without a mount.

But there’s an interesting kernel in here, this idea that we outgrow content. That, at some point, Wailing Caverns becomes too little, too wee, too small. It’s in the past, it’s in our history, it’s not appropriate for us to run anymore. We aren’t young heroes any more, we’re saviors of Azeroth, freeing a druid from the Emerald Nightmare in the Barrens is beneath us. There’s no challenge in doing it (except getting lost, and the map is no longer the hardest boss in WC.) There’s not really any reward, unless we’re tying to find some purple and green gear for a mog outfit. It’s appropriate when we are leveling through the Barrens, but not afterwards.

Most dungeons are, indeed, like this. Outland and Northrend dungeons make sense only in their relative contexts, and only provide challenges there, too. As you level up, your potential gear grows, and you become more and more powerful relative to that old dungeon.

Battlegrounds don’t really make sense – have never really made sense – in this context. How could you have a bunch of level 85 characters fighting over Ashenvale, when that conflict zone is for levels 20-30? It’s not appropriate. Neither is level 35 characters fighting in Netherstorm – the leveling problem goes both ways here.

It’s easy enough for me to say, listen, PvP is entirely relative. It’s not about how much health you have, it’s about how much health you have relative to the damage your opponents put out. It’s not about how much damage you put out, but how quickly you can deal it during periods when defenses are low or healing is unable to address it. This is why battlegrounds work. This is why they work from level 10 all the way up to level 85 – it is about the relative challenge. Yes, there are issues within each bracket. Yes, burst is too high in some. Yes, health is too high in some. Yes, there are too many/too few counters in some.

But perhaps the easy response is not really the right response. Perhaps it’s not that battlegrounds are broken, and that their design needs to be defended – but rather that dungeons are broken.


Increasing health as you level makes no sense. There are a lot of things about leveling that don’t make sense when you really think about them, but the increases in health are a big one. It’s a construct of the RPG genre, a gameplay element that helps you feel like your character is progressing.

That progression is completely divorced from the story. Look at many of the successful early zones in Cataclysm: Silverpine, Westfall, Darkshore, Barrens. You are interacting with the story on a heroic level in these zones. It doesn’t matter that you are only level 16, you are interacting with your faction leaders and named lore characters. You are taking on challenges with significant lore-based ramifications. Your actions shape nations.

And your level doesn’t matter.

It’s not just leveling zones where we see this, though. Leveling dungeons have plenty of hugely significant events. It’s tempting to trivialize some of them because of their low levels, but you discover important facts about the origin of the dwarves, kill Therazene’s daughter, bring down the remnants of a troll empire, kill the Dark Iron Emperor and bring Moria Bronzebeard to power. You free druids and dragons from the Emerald Dream. You counter the Defias threat to Stormwind.

All of these things are important for the story of your character, and are pretty heroic on their own. But because they’re at lower levels, we tend to dismiss them as invalid or unimportant. But they are!

The more I play, the more I think this is the real, fundamental flaw behind MMORPG storytelling. There has to be a way to say, hey, make the gun to the head matter. Make this content relevant to me. Make it appropriate for the story, and appropriate to my character. If it’s supposed to be a challenge, make it a challenge, even if it’s Wailing Caverns and I’m level 85.

This is one area where I think PvP outshines PvE by a longshot. For all of its flaws, PvP in Warcraft allows the content to be relevant to you no matter what level you participate in it. Alterac Valley is as much of a challenge at 85 as it is at 70 as it is at 51 because other players make it so.

When talking about game design I often refer back to the FUDGE Scale – a relative measure of the quality of something in a RPG. Instead of increasing without limit, character abilities get defined relative to base standard. So, for example, I could be playing a starship engineer who is a Poor pilot, but a Great mechanic. If I attempt to make a repair with a Good difficulty, I’m probably going to be able to make it. If I try to make a starship maneuver with a Good difficulty, I’m probably not.

You can think of the FUDGE scale as fuzzy logic applied to RPGs – it’s how we tend to think about actual characterization, abilities, the gut check to make sure that the numbers and the system work right. It helps us describe problems like the problem of Cataclysm 80-85 leveling – you go from a Superb character to a Poor character over the course of this journey, and then back to Superb through the course of Cataclysm’s raiding tiers. It’s a disconcerting journey to take a character through – I went from faceroll tanking Northrend content at 79-80 to getting my ass kicked in the Throne of Tides at level 80, struggling to stay alive and wondering what I was doing wrong. It’s simple – my relative power level dropped, dramatically. That’s okay, but disheartening.

What if we could adjust this, though? What if we could turn around and say – make it easier. Make it harder. Three levels of content difficulty – leave it the way it is, make it easy for your level, make it hard.

Gee, that kinda sounds like Dragon Soul raiding, doesn’t it? Only instead of three tiers structured with absolute values, create them with relative difficulties: as they were (“at-level,” “normal-mode,”), easy for your current level, and hard for their current level.

Heck, get rid of levels as a gate of content. Allow people to try content at any level, just normalize the content for their current situation. (“Level 10 twinks raid Dragon Soul, down Deathwing, film at 11!”) Take a page from SW:TOR’s PvP and make it so that levels are irrelevant – gear and abilities are normalized so that level 10s can fight level 40s. Expand that to PvE, make it so level 40s can get together and raid Ulduar – skill trumps leveling.

Gear could even be reworked in this kind of a model – instead of providing constant increase in power, we’d seek out gear that had certain special abilities. Perhaps it’s elemental slaying gear for MC and Firelands, undead slaying gear from ICC, and you raid so that you get gear with special abilities which carry you on to other raids.

Instead of obsoleting Battlegrounds because our characters outgrow them, why not make Dungeons more relevant throughout the leveling process? Make it so that you pick a raid not upon what’s current content, but on what you enjoy or has gear you actually want?

It’s a very different world to consider.


This isn’t going to work.

As a system, relative difficulties make a lot of sense. If you design a RPG so that difficulties are Easy / Normal / Hard from the ground up, you can go ahead and ensure that your content is fresh and valuable no matter how your leveling system works. Characters wouldn’t outgrow the story. You could take your 85s through Silverpine and Darkshore and have those be interesting experiences, instead of 1-shotting your way through everything. A MMORPG designed around dynamic content difficulties would be a lot of fun to play.

But that’s not the World of Warcraft.

WoW is a game of gear acquisition. That’s the fundamental premise of the entire game. You get good gear, it will become old and crappy gear as you level up. You’re going to need better gear every few months at the endgame. You’re going to need it with every new expansion.

If you take the importance of gear away, you remove many of the motivations people have for playing WoW. Characters don’t level to get better abilities, don’t run dungeons and raid to get better gear. They don’t subscribe month after month trying to get the newest latest best gear; they run through the content, enjoy it (all of it), and then go do something else.

Conversely, battlegrounds stand outside of this. While gear is important, it’s only important relative to your fellow players. Gear as well as you can for your opponents. This rule works from levels 10-85! Your opponents will always be dynamic. Having a static set of maps allows people to master the game-within-a-game of each individual BG, but they aren’t tied to specific levels. There’s nothing in them that really refers back to the PvE zones which they live in – they’re just maps. Timeless maps with high replay value that the developers don’t have to mess with while they create new content for PvE to consume – and outgrow.

Changing the foundations of WoW makes for an interesting thought exercise.

But ultimately – headshots will never kill your toons.

(Except in a cutscene.)


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

29 responses to “On Headshots and Dynamic Content

  1. SWTOR’s PvP experience has been one of the best features of the game for that very reason.

    I only wish there was a game out there that had longevity and replay value but with this type of scaling that would allow people to play with their friends regardless of level/gear differences and still have there be a challenge.

    Blizzard talked about being able to de-level your toons a while back as something they had considered and talked about, and I so wish that they would have done that.

    Seeing in in SWTOR PvP has shown me not only that it can work, but how truly fantastic that functionality is. Now if I could just find it in my PvE as well.

    And not just in cutscenes.

    • I keep coming back to that SW:TOR PvP model. Part of me goes, I’ll miss finding all the cool little items that make twinking so much fun. The other part of me goes, but make it so gear doesn’t matter anymore. 😦

    • Ethan

      “Seeing in in SWTOR PvP has shown me not only that it can work, but how truly fantastic that functionality is. Now if I could just find it in my PvE as well.”

      Enter: Guild Wars 2

      It won’t be perfect, but it is damned close. I can’t wait.

  2. Funny that you mention the Ironman Challenge in the same paragraph as you mention D&D. When I first tweeted that fabled tweet that got the whole ball rolling, I was actually thinking of “Well, in D&D you make the game harder by having less magic items”. More specifically thinking of my current campaign versus say… the brutality of Dark Sun. Just kinda funny.

    I’ve often wondered how much potential there would be in a game that is solely built around gear. A game where there are no levels, no XP, and everything is based around acquiring more and more powerful gear. Just essentially make the WoW endgame model the whole game. I don’t know how effective it would be, but I occasionally come back to that idea and think it would be fun to at least try. Maybe an experiment for a D&D mini-campaign or something.

    • Dark Sun. Oh man, that setting was so interesting, so … out there, so wonderfully challenging. I never played it, but read a lot of the sourcebooks. Brutal but intriguing.

      That endgame-as-the-only-game is a really interesting idea. I want to think about that a bit – would that be better or worse than what we have now? I honestly don’t know! 🙂

  3. I find myself in a curious place on this. On the one hand, I find wide power differentials like we see in WoW to be extremely distasteful because of these reasons. On the other hand, I really don’t like the sort of “world autoleveling” we see in Morrowind and Oblivion, where the world keeps pace with you. On the other hand, I like being able to outlevel a challenge and come back to it to compensate for my lack of skills. On the other hand, I like STO and the fact that I can just jump into pretty much any mission and do OK with it as long as I don’t screw up much, largely because the power differential is very small, and gear really doesn’t matter all that much.

    I think there’s a sweet spot in there, and it probably intersects neatly with player skill (another relevant axis, but out of the control of designers)… but on the other hand, sometimes I think we just need to accept that different games will naturally function differently, and sometimes either paradigm is fine, even if it has its warts.

    …so yeah, great article, Cyn!

    • Thanks, Tesh! 🙂

      Yeah, I was trying to figure out how to summarize this post and … well, I mean, it’s basically saying I wish that Warcraft worked differently, but if it did it wouldn’t be Warcraft and you might as well have a different game at that point.

      I guess that’s why I liked FUDGE so much – not that it was always relativistic, but rather that it was adaptable – you could leave it almost as a GURPS-clone, if you wanted (though, why not play GURPS?), or make it as freeform as you liked.

      I remember the first time I imposed the headshot rule in AD&D; it was during A1-4 Against the Slavers (the collected series, not the originals, I missed them in print) and a PC tried to get out of being captured. I’m like, there is a knife at your throat, do you understand what will happen next? And the PC was like, I have enough hit points to survive.

      It turns out he did not, in fact, have enough hit points. (We did reset the scene after we sorted that out, though. I hated having to railroad the PCs like that though.)

  4. A computer game such as WoW has issues with things such as this because the ‘DM’ in the game has to follow certain rules set about by the AI and the code, and can’t make judgement calls that a human DM can.

    For example, if a 1st Level Fighter got a hold of a +5 Vorpal Sword in an AD&D game, you can bet money that the DM would immediately scale up combat to compensate for the sudden increase in attack/damage power. (Unless, of course, you were in a Monty Haul campaign.) A computer game can’t do that easily, and an MMO would find that almost impossible. How would an MMO scale things for the L85 toon cruising through Ashenvale with L20 toons nearby? It’d be either too easy for L85 toon or too difficult for the L20 toons.

    Perhaps what’s needed is a change from the traditional ‘level up’ power scaling to something where each person has two types of “health”: core health and stamina. Core Health is a fixed value based on your constitution, while Stamina varies based on your experience level and your activity level. In a regular fight, a player goes through Stamina first unless a certain event triggers an attack focusing on Core Health: attack from behind/blindside, coup de grace, certain poisons, etc.

    Of course, such a game would have less appeal than a power leveling game, but it’d model the ‘gun to the head’ scenario much better.

    • I agree completely, but as I’m thinking about it – why couldn’t a computer game scale encounter difficulty to gear?

      You could also structure it so that the underlying damage system is percentage based, not point based, so that the MMO looks at your gear rating and says, this mob should be Nx the gear rating, so that combat should require M number of basic attacks or P number of special attacks, something like that?

      I think I’ve seen some health systems like you describe, but I can’t place them now. Maybe Last Unicorn Games’s Star Trek? I will have to poke around and see if I can find it.

      Lots to think about, thanks for the comment!

  5. Jez

    I don’t really agree that the way that SW:TOR has handled PVP is that fantastic. Sure your gear and abilities are normalised but SW:TOR still uses the ‘get new skills as you level’ approach which means of course that as a low level character in a BG with higher level opponents you have a much smaller tool box even if the tools you are have are ‘on par’.

    • I should note that I don’t play SW:TOR, so all I know is passed on from conversations with folks who do it, but it doesn’t seem like the lack of abilities is a huge hinderance. Level 15-25s seem to be able to make a huge impact on the Warzones – even dominate them – which is just a really interesting concept to me.

      I can guarantee you that if that system makes it into WoW, the scaling at level 10 will make level 10 twinks unstoppable.

      • I’ve never found the difference in tool box to be critical. I killed 50’s when I was in the level 10-20 range (before the bracket switch), and I still kill 40+ characters on my man alts in their teens.

        More tools means more options, not victory by default.

  6. I don’t really have much of use to add, just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this post and it’s got me thinking about how one could design a game around something other than ‘levels’.

    I guess part I the problem is something alluded to in the post: players like to feel they’re getting more powerful. For some this even takes priority over things like raid progression, in that they’re in it for the gear, rather than to down bosses per se.

    You’re right, I think, to say that if there were no levelling in WoW players would leave – it is after all a big part of why they play the game. Without levelling it’d be an entirely different game, and players would rightly feel cheated or betrayed if it was removed.

    Perhaps Blizzard’s next MMO will take a new and different approach to the whole genre. I’m looking forward to what they come up with.

    Also (ok so maybe I do have something to say, it just kinda happened :p ) this makes me wonder about how levelling and stats will be scaled when Mista of Pandaria comes out – from what I understand, Blizzard are going to be scaling stats down across the board to avoid players having to deal with absurdly large numbers (e.g. tanks with a million health, abilities hitting for 600,000 damage; zero-blindness). How will players react when that patch hits and suddenly their DPS is cut in half?

    • The whole “increase in power” thing is interesting. Numbers convey it, but for relative content (at-level) you lose power as you gain numbers. It’s really quite interesting! I mean, I had 96% Haste on a Holy Pally at level 10. It’s all downhill from there.

      While Ghostcrawler said they want to squish item levels, I don’t think it’s official yet. I really really really really really hope they do it.


      • Yeah, it’s the same on my shaman – at level 80 and in various 264 ICC bits, his Lightning Bolt cast time was getting near 1s, but then I level up and suddenly everything’s slower!

        • I hit 79 on my warrior and stepped into a bunch of Cata greens, carefully selected for tanking. It was awesome.

          I hit 80 on my warrior and stepped into a bunch of Cata tanking blues, while in Wrath dungeons. It was even MORE awesome.

          I got thrown into Throne of Tides at level 80. It sucked really, really badly. I got one-shot, a lot. I had to chain CDs to survive. I couldn’t let my health drop.

          What’s worse is that I know it’s going to be even harder on my healer. At level 83 her mana usage is going to skyrocket and her throughput is going to drop through the floor. 84-85 are very bad levels for healers. Each pull is going to take time and consideration.

          I don’t think I’m looking forward to it, precisely. 😦

  7. I’m glad you had the reaction you did to my idea, because that’s where it came from, a sort of “why does this work this way despite everything else not?” I don’t think I’d want to level out of BGs, because they can be so much fun to go back to. I wonder why instances aren’t the same. I somehow ran AV for years, pretty much continuously, without ever getting sick of it, almost the same for AB, but few instances can compare. BRD perhaps, but that’s about the only place that I can imagine spending the better part of a day it and wanting to go right back the next, and the next.

    I do have to argue with your claim about levels. Certainly they aren’t presented correctly, but there are deep reasons behind them, so deep that you cannot retain your sanity when seeing. But I can and that’s tomorrow’s post.

    Thanks for the link!

  8. Hey Cynwise (wise king?)!

    Hmmmm, suspending reality is a delicate balance and difficult to achieve. I have no idea how I would go about improving WoW on that note.

    WoW has three things going for them: It’s imbued with a nostalgia factor so that anytime blizzard changes it up, people get pissed; the psychology of leveling and achievement seeking is uber powaful; there’s the “us vs. them” with Horde and Alliance; and playing with real people in an “us vs. them” environment makes for good times.

    All human beings want to be part of a group. Add dragons and elves…that’s a win.

  9. dagh forgot simly face 😀

  10. Dejara Thoris

    Putting on my grognard hat: If you want an interesting system that is very realistic you should look for copies of Leading Edge Games titles. They’ve been out of print for years, but copies show up on ebay from time to time. One of the authors is an actual rocket scientist at JPL. Much of the small arms data was taken from US Army testing results.

    We used to use their Phoenix Command rules for a modern mercenaries/SF game and the shock on new players faces when they realized just how deadly it was warms my heart. (“WHAT?! you’re supposed to duck?”) The best part is how much better their role-playing got after that point…AD&D made them lazy.

  11. Great post Cyn!

    As I was reading through it I was thinking the same thing that you came to – why not a scaling system whereby you choose the story to follow and the content remains relevant (a challenge). I don’t tend to follow stories too closely as I level but I follow it even less if I’m going back and doing it when I can one-shot the mobs. The story is given more time to percolate if you aren’t killing things so quickly.

    I agree it would have to be designed that way from the ground up. I never played Oblivion etc where this was the design – but that sort of design becomes harder when you incorporate multiple people playing together. How do you scale it when players are 2, 5, 10 levels different (although as you suggest the level might be an outmoded concept in this design anyway). The issues can be solved but it is an entirely different game. While it doesn’t necessarily have to negate the role of gear – it might end up with the SW:TOR PvP situation – where abilities become the deciding factor on content ease rather than gear.

    Guild Wars 2 is a more complete scale-up model than SW:TOR in of PvP – but I still have a couple of questions about how it will be implemented. From what I know in GW2 you will be given all the abilities and a basic pvp set (half your ‘active’ abilities are tied to your weapons). GW2 comes from a different design – given the history of GW1 where you could start a max level PvP only character. GW2 basically allows you to combine those two in one character (which is a boon because you come with a limit number of character slots – well you can buy more!). So from that perspective I think they’ll probably be different progression paths – your PvP doesn’t actually level you, and your PvE doesn’t provide you your PvP tools.

    • Thanks, Gameldar!

      I agree that it really is easier pay more attention to the story at level. You look at the rewards and actually think about the quests. You stop and go, how am I going to pull these mobs? And that slower mechanical pace translates into more attention to the story. Why am I here, what am I doing, why am I doing this again?

      It’s a bit of a challenge when you level too fast through a zone, but I find that my attention starts wandering after an hour or two of questing and I’m going through the motions. That’s usually when it’s time to call it a night.

      I am intrigued by GW2, not gonna lie. 🙂

      • I wonder if part of the problem isn’t so much that out-levelling the zone makes the story go by too quickly, as it is that so much of the story is based on combat. It kinda ties in to the recent discussions about skippable content, and how a lot of it is just “filler” – there to make the game longer, rather than serve any real narrative purpose. It’s also a bit odd that nobody has any issue with the fact that you’ve murdered thousands of people, and that it doesn’t affect your character’s mental health at all.

        I think another issue is perhaps the WoW UI itself and the way it presents quest/story text. Personally I find it a little small and hard to read, and the way it’s shoved into a small box on the side of the screen sort of adds to the feeling that it’s all just incidental. I’m not sure there’s really a good alternative to this – putting it in a large more-central box could be even worse. Having everything voiced would clearly be a challenge too, even to a company with Blizzard’s resources, simply due to the sheer amount of quest text in the game.

      • Yeah the interruptions make it hard. I also tend to play a character until I run out of rested xp (which they tend to have maxed out) before switching to another (or going back to my max level characters). And I’m either queued for a bg or a dungeon so it really does break the flow as well. I guess I’ve been more interested in looking at the quirky/fun quests when running through some things recently – so I punched some goats and then punched deathwing with my rogue – but apart from that the story has sort of blurred.

        I’m interested in GW2 too. Enough that I’ve actually installed GW1 again to see how the PvP works there. I got a max level PvE character back when I did play it – but I basically played it as a solo game and the fun and interested died once I hit level 20 (and managed to beat my wife to by a day!) But my interest in PvP has grown a lot since then and so the attraction of GW2 has increased. Also the lack of subscription means it is a good alternative to WoW that I can pick up and play without the obligation that a subscription entails.

        Oh yeah I forgot to yell at you before for the lack of spoiler alert! Not that I tend to pay attention to them – but I’m planning on going through the forsaken zones some time soon (on the way to twinking a lvl 24 horde).

  12. francois

    “Increasing health as you level makes no sense. “

    I so agree, especially now in the social networking era we are living in:

    When Garrosh defeated Cairne (in The Shattering) he went mad when he realized he had an unfair advantage. What I mean is that WoW is not really a game for me anymore (not fair-play) and that Azeroth heroes would never play it if they could because not honorable (stats doping/cheating considered non ethical in real life games/sports).

    The sad thing is that Blizzard know that WoW players will never be satisfied of intrinsic rewards (the pleasure of being a better gamer, achieving more difficult tasks etc) versus extrinsic rewards (non-challenging pontification gained with time).
    “ If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise”

    I still love the universe though.
    An honorable game, it is not.

  13. Khwai

    A bit off topic, but wouldn’t it be intresting if there was a MMO that is as utterly sadistic as Twilight 2000 could be on occasion, but also had those “OH-YES!!!” moments of rolling a splendid success, for an example killing a tank with a handgun because the handgun bounced off the commanders open hatch into the tank and hit some ammunition laying there. However I’m pretty certain that if such an MMO would exist it would almost have to be community developed, as the raw difficulty wouldn’t be popular except with a few players.

    • Sadistic is a good word to describe Twilight: 2000. I wish I’d thought of that while writing this post. 🙂

      Man, that game was brutal.

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