Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Perfect Dungeon Run

In this article I will describe a fictional perfect dungeon run. It is losely based on World of Warcraft, so I do not have to describe the whole MMORPG before.

The (relatively) short version:
- Flying mounts exist, but you can only mount one at a flight master. You can unmount it everywhere, but it then returns to the flight master.

- The dungeon is instanced. Trying to make good non-instanced dungeons is not something for this article. It requires a lot of changes to the game, like more dungeons, no fast travel etc.

- Although the dungeon is instanced, you are not necessarily alone. It is possible to meet another group of adventaures. Since we play on a PvE server they will not be able to attack us and we might, in fact, decide to work together. Usually the game does this when it is smart to work together.

- There is no light in dungeons unless you make it.

- Your carrying capability is realistic. Yes, not immersive, but realistic. That's why gems and gold are so valueable: In addition to what they are worth, you can easily carry them.

- Enemies behave credibly. They 'add' each other, can be alarmed if you make too much sound or allow them to see you.

- Sneaking and watching, listening and smelling things is very valueable. Information in general is.

- Not every group of enemies is supposed to be slaughtered. You pick your fights and hope to not be picked.

- If you wipe you lose everything you gained in the dungeon and respawn near the nearest city.

- You need to walk out of the dungeon to leave it.

- While being logged off things can happen, but things stay fair from a gameplay point of view.

- Sound plays an important role. Also the sounds enemies make.

- Heavy melees classes can tank by initiating a formation that does not allow any enemy to pass between them if they are not too far apart. No 'threat'. More powerful monsters require more heavy melees to be blocked. Friendly players and mobs cannot be blocked.

- Casters generally pull with AoE, but are severly restricted if they are behind a tank. They don't want to hit the tank with their spells, after all. After pulling, they often use spells and abilities to help the melees. If they are attacked directly they try to slow the enemy down or use temporary defensive spells. This limitation does not apply to non-caster ranged DDs (say hunters).

- AoE and fights in general are loud. Loud things can pull other enemies if they have a reasonable duration.

- Things can be lying on the ground. To keep hardware requirements in check, not every item is rendered. In fact, most are not and you need to initiate a search to find things if stuff is next to each other. The longer you search, the higher the chances to find something. (Diminishing returns).

- Enemies become ever harder the deeper you venture. Of course, loot also becomes ever better.

- Light melee classes are good at CC and have defensive cooldowns during which they can attack a foe one on one. They can, however, not block foes (tank) and are rather weak without the defensive cooldowns. While doing CC they tend to be ignored by other mobs.

- Wounds heal very fast after a fight. There is only very weak healing during a fight. Instead, there is a lot of support to keep your party member from being hurt in the first place.

- DPS is rather unimportant. It just reduces length of a fight and thus probability of something bad happening.

- Dungeons are unpredictable and based on random seeds. This also applies to the inhabitants. While some creatures prefer some types of equipment, it is impossible to predict their capabilities/behaviour from looking at internet sources alone.

An example dungeon run:

1) A friend asks me if I would like to do a dungeon. I agree.

2) I get invited to a group of two people. We search some time to find another one, who also knows a fifth one. We agree to continue over the next two days. The group consists of two heavy melees, one light melee, one ranged non-caster dd and a caster. (For example, a warrior, a paladin, a rogue, a hunter and a mage).

3) We go to the flight master to pay for a mount. It is the only place you can get a flying mount. We steer our mounts to the dungeon and unmount. While the mounts fly back to the flight master, we venture into the dungeon.

4) The dungeon is completely new to us, because we get an ID (random seed) at the start that is used to create it randomly within a style that is determined by the story of the dungeon.

5) The dungeon is mostly completely dark (black) once we got some distance to the entrance. We need to use our own light sources. Luckily, that is an easy task for our caster. Otherwise we would need to use torches which need a free hand, cost money and inventory space.

6) We are not running, therefore the dungeon appears even larger. Running would be foolish, as sounds travels very far inside a cavern and we'd warn half the mobs of our presence. They would not automatically find us, but were alarmed and thus harder to attack by surprise.

7) Walking is not boring, because we constantly need to watch for traps/things that make sounds, valueables lying on the ground, anything unusual, light in the distance, and of course, enemies.

8) After five minutes we reach a room where a lot of stuff is lying on the ground. We inspect it all, but do not find anything useful. We are about to leave the room behind, when I find a small red gem. We agree to share whatever this thing is worth to some crafters back in the city.

8) After a while we see some light in the distance. Some kind of humanoids create shadows at a wall. Our rogue sneakes near to find out more. (Future graphics, yeah!)

9) It is a small group of goblins. Our caster tries his best to sneak near and 'pulls' with a big fiery AoE spell. After which he runs back behind our two heavy melee classes who block the path for the goblins who started running towards us. They use a block-formation to due this. The AoE sends a booming sound through the caverns, but our group is not suited for silently killing enemies and we are still at the very start. Dungeons are increasingly difficult the deeper you venture.

10) The hallway we came from is a great choke point, so we are not too worried, even if other mobs should come to the source of the fighting sounds. Some kind of clairvoyance spell would have been helpful, but our caster is unable to cast one.

11) No other enemies add and we easily dispatch of the Goblins after a short, but fierce fight during which our caster casted defensive spells on the melees. Our light melee class CCed one goblin, the two heavy melees blocked (tanked) and the ranged non-caster DD fired from behind the heavy melees.

12) After a while one of the goblins tries to flee. We expected that and he is an easy target.

13) We search the goblins. They wear some modestly valueable armor and weapons, but we decide that it is not worth the extra weight. We store some of it in a hidden corner so that we can carry it back out if we return and haven't found anything valueable.

14) One of us needs to log out, so we decide to continue the next day.

15) At 6pm the next day we meet again. Our characters spawn at the exactly same spot they left. The items of the Goblins are still around. Nothing seems to have happened in this forgotten part of the world while we were away.

16) We continue exploring. After a while we hear something in the distance. It is hard to make something of it, but one of us says that he heard it before in this dungeon and it was a underground river.

17) While we anxiously move towards the source of the sound (it seems to get louder), a bright light appears far away. Our caster stops his light spell and we wait in total darkness. After a while our eyes have adjusted and we can see shapes due to the light in the distance.

18) One of our heavy melees has a low-quality telescope (very expensive, he claims). He gives it to the hunter who has better eyesight. It seems that a rather large force of goblins is slowly marching towards us. It also seems that the sound was, in fact, not the water, but those goblins marching. Fortunately we did not allow that goblin to escape, yesterday.

19) We might have a chance against them. It is a narrow hallway, so our melees can easily block their melees. We are at full health and it's just Goblins. Wiping, however, means to have to be returned to a graveyard outside the nearest city and lose that gem. Our rogue says that his sense-danger ability says that he is really uneasy, although not in deadly danger. We decide to not risk it.

20) Our rogue says that he would need to log off, because his mother needs him to do something. We manage to convince him to stay, though. There is no way to log off now and survive. We will first need to get some distance to the goblins.

21) Our caster creates a weak aura to makes us less loud, while our warrior says to stay behind him, because his race has better low-light vision. We run back to the room of the first fight and then decide to explore a different path. The reason our caster did not create the aura before, is that it applies a considerable penalthy to all other abilities for quite some time. It also has a cooldown.

22) After some minutes it turns out that this path actually leads behind the goblin patrol. From behind we see that it was a very good decision to evade them. It's about 12 of them and we are only 5. They walk slowly, with a bright light and not careful at all. We wait 10 minutes for our rogue to return and continue.

23) In a corner we find a fireplace the goblins probably used. Had we been faster we could have surprise-attacked them there. We decide to use it to rest our characters a bit. This place is very well hidden and easily protectable (blockable). Logging out here decreases the chance to be attacked when logging back in. We decide to meet again tomorrow. While well rested we get small boni to everything we do.

24) We log in at 6 pm to be surprised by some insects that attack us (after a clear warning). We very easily dispatch of them. Our caster is a rather skilled cook and claims that he will be able to make something great of that insects back in town.

25) We continue our exploration. After a while the sound our boots make changes. We are not walking on stone anymore. The earth we walk on is quite wet here. This probably means that enemies change, too. Our hunter smells something being cooked in the distance. Some minutes later everybody smells it.

26) Carefully walking forward we reach a really large room. At the one side of it there is a group of lizardmen. Our hunter sneaks near and uses the telescope. There are six of them. They look rather big which is not a good sign. On the other hand, there is a metal chest next to them and they have powerful looking weapons. Our heavy melees would love to have a closer look at these.

27) After discussing it for a while we decide to attack. We still need to get out of the dungeon again and we would prefer to do this together. We had started this by agreeing to explore together for three days and two of us will not be able to play the next week.

28) Our caster is weakend by the aura he casted before, but still manages to pull with a nice AoE spell. Our heavy melees block the path and protect the caster. Since there is no chokepoint they need to slowly rotate to keep the lizards away caster and the hunter behind them. Our rogue CCs two of the lizardmen.

29) The still burning Lizards run towards us. A very tough fight develops. Those weapons the Lizards use turn out to be quite powerful and, more than that, long range. Our caster has problems helping the melees from behind without being hit. Our rogue CCs the two mobs really well. He's certainly the first I'd invite again.

30) Unfortunately, one of our melees is eventually struck down and our group is ripped apart. Wipe. Damn!


  1. Except for a few things the dungeon run you are describing sounds a lot like Darkfall. It's a heavy PvP game, no flying mounts and limited fast travel, sound and sight are important, friendly fire is a consideration, collision awareness, realistic AI, and picking the right fight is important when trying to stay alive.

  2. Thanks, Jesse. I know something about Darkfall :).

    Before DF came out I was enthausiastic. But after release I disliked their character power progression (skill based), the hacks, the macros, the grieving and the bugs. There are also lot of RP haters there.

    It also seems that the DF community is generally rather unfriendly and elitist.

    Then I dislike the fps part as I enjoy more tactical combat. That does not mean that fps is necessarily not tactical. It is just that I don't want combat to be too fast or too much based on my mouse-aiming skill.

    I want to roleplay a fantasy character and the fighting itself should be something the character does. I want to be bothered with the higher-level decisions only.

    But, of course, I appreciate the fact that Darkfall still lives and generally support small, innovative companies that try to bring MMORPGs to the next level instead of endlessly fine tuning the current one.

  3. Yeah, I had some of the same issues with Darkfall. After trying it, the combat is actually pretty fun for an FPS. The actual community wasn't nearly as bad as the forum community, but I haven't played in a while so that could have changed. The skill system sucks, and macroing/AFK'ing is the defacto way to make it suck a little less. Which is a bad way to have things, but they have made changes so it may be better now than it was at startup. Overall it was an interesting experience, and I will resubscribe every so often to spice up my gaming time.

  4. I would subscribe to that game in a heartbeat. I really want MMOs to move beyond the aggro/trinity system to something like you described.

    How would you implement the sights/sounds/smells in-game? Would you use arrows/symbols around the screen to indicate direction, distance, and amount/loudness/strength?

  5. Sorry to double-post, but this just occurred to me as I hit 'publish'.

    Perhaps major cities should not be the only respawn site. What if there were neutral graveyards/respawn sites scattered about the world, often closer than a city, but you could only respawn to them if your faction controlled it?

  6. Thanks for your thoughts, EpicMan,

    On "sights":
    I would hope that the graphics engine is good enough.

    Audio technology is quite good these days. If the user has no surround speaker system, headphones work very well.

    Until we get this usb device that creates smells (bad idea, probably), we will need some information on screen. For example a little light that pops up in a corner of the screen, when your character smells something unexspected. You click on it and are told what it is. A textual description would work nice here, I think.

    About your suggestion that major cities should not be the only respawn sites: I didn't really spent much thought on this, because this is a post about dungeons. Where, exactly, you respawn and whether there are player-owned sites etc. is only marginally important within the scope of the post.

    Perhaps I will expand on this in another blog post. That much I can say: I am a big fan of a working (=efficient) player-run economy. It is not too hard to do. Is solves a lot of problems you otherwise run into and it is highly immersive if done right.

    On PvP:
    I love PvP in WoW, because I find the PvE content to become boring very fast. (A mistake on the design of the PvE content!).

    I would prefer PvP to be a part of any MMO, for immersion reasons. Having said that, I do not like PvP for the sake of PvP and consider this a typical example for gameplay considerations.
    Full loot is very immersive, but it does not work for every game, for example.

  7. I would love to play this game. When will it be out? *Grin*

  8. Running a dungeon in Dungeons and Dragons Online is the closest I've come to an experience like this... although, only when you're running something suitably challenging for the group you're in, and which hasn't been spoiled by a member having already done the dungeon or looking it up online.

    It's a pity that cases where skipping a pack because the chance of a wipe out isn't worth the chance that we won't get enough monster kills for our "Conquest" bonus at the end are so incredibly rare. I suggest intentionally gimping your characters, or running undermanned to try and experience this.