This is most probably a pipe dream, a crazy, unfinished tought. Maybe technology wouldn’t allow what I’m thinking about or maybe there’s some repercussions I’m not seeing that would ruin the game for players, or could be exploited or any other reason why it would fail. Still, my idea here is not to come up with the perfect solution, or a solution at all but rather to try to provoke some tought in how things could work. Read on if you want to know that crazy dream of mine about rethinking instances and encounters.
Taking a page out of RTS
I had this idea for a long time about how instances and encounters feel static, how often the mobs in them behave very differently than what you would imagine reading the lore. Here’s this huge evil dragon known to burn his minions for his enjoyment but he’s going to wait patiently in his lair while you slaughter everyone. It feels off somewhat. Yet this is how dungeons and raids have been programmed for the longest time and besides a few scripted events to make it look like the npcs are active, most of them wait around for you to come to them and butcher them.
Now let’s look at real-time strategy games like Starcraft 2. You have the (instance boss), controlling resources (minions), that he uses against you to beat you. The big difference here is how they use them. In a RTS the AI is advanced enough to make different decisions from game to game so that you cannot learn by heart how to beat a certain computer. You can certainly play around with the difficulty(Heroic) but it’s never exactly the same game. Some games will even program personalities to their AI so that even at the same difficulty the game plan will change.
The crazy idea
Now why don’t we apply the same principle in an MMO instance. I’m going to pick Deadmines in WoW since it’s one of the most well-known dungeon to use as an example.
Our brave adventurers head to Deadmines today to kill Van Cleef who’s in particularly violent mood today(aggressive personality). He’s sitting in his boat, unaware(fog of war) that the Players have begun slaughtering his slaves in his mines. Soon enough, he learns of the player’s presence and sends an elite group of minions(ninjas!) to take out the players. When those fails he orders an all out attack on the players to slaughter them on the spot.
If our player are unprepared they will get swamped by the sheer number of npcs going for them. But maybe they were clever and anticipated such a move, prepared defensive positions and are able to eliminate the waves of minions without too much loss, leaving Van Cleef open for an attack.
On the next run to Deadmines Van Cleef could have a more passive personality and try to be defensive by using chokepoints and stronger guards. The possibilities are limitless!
Of course it can’t be done right now in WoW… but why can’t we try to implement something like this in a future MMO?
Bringing back the unknown
That would be the biggest advantage to this kind of design. Sure there’s limit to the possibilities and it would still be somewhat scripted since the boss would have the same resources each run and you would be able to expect a minimum of what’s going to happen but there would always be an element of unknown every run. You could not be sure of what would happen exactly and the same strategy would not work every time. If only for that I think it would be worth it.
I know that some of my best MMO moments was when things were new and we didn’t know by heart what would happen. Why not try to bring that back by giving some options in dungeons?