Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lylirra and the Information Curse

Lylirra, a blue poster at Blizzard wrote a comment a few days ago:

We're definitely looking into ways to add more information about raid and dungeon bosses directly into the game client. For example, as discussed at BlizzCon 2010 in the Raids and Dungeons panel, we're already discussing the possibility of incorporating loot tables and boss abilities into zone maps. While "enhanced maps" are still in their formative stages, we love the idea of a player being able to access a variety of information about a specific boss -- including what it drops, what abilities it has, and maybe even some lore about who it is and why everyone in Azeroth wants to kill it -- just by opening her map and mousing over an icon.

This is all still on the horizon, of course, and would likely be something that's implemented in stages. Nevertheless, we agree that the game could provide better tools for players who are adapting to new content and are currently working to bridge that gap for the future (in a meaningful way that doesn't undermine or spoil the experience).

Join James Portnow, Daniel Floyd and Allison Theus from the Escapist Magazine made this stunning video some time ago.

Take your time ...

It was hard to find a title for this post, because it touches so many topics. I chose "Information Curse" once again, because that's really where it affects us, the consumers. As you can see Blizzard is not content with people having to look up things on the internet. And rightly so! New players should have all necessary information available without googling for them.

But how does Blizzard fight this problem? They just put everything in the client. All of it! I cannot really become upset anymore about my character knowing stuff about bosses he has never seen. This problem runs much deeper! It is not just some immersion problem. It is a fundamental gameplay problem, too! Extra Credits successfully demonstrate that except for calculations there are two ways to make choice interesting in games: Incomplete information and incomparables. What they miss to state is that for everybody who is bad enough at mathematics, every calculation becomes an incomparable. Unless, unless there is the internet!

This always was Blizzards big problem with talent trees and rotations and priority systems in World of Warcraft. With Cataclysm they sacrificed a lot of the talent tree mathematics (no problem, I guess) for a few more incomparables. But the real problem are not the talent trees, but the boss encounters. (Are there any other encounters in WoW? Sad! But another topic!)

Instead of telling you exactly what you need to do, Blizzard should try to add a few more incomparables. For example they could give DDs ways to take significantly less damage when dealing significant less dps and make encounters require them to do so!

But my favourite solution are Incomplete Information Problems! Also called: Unpredictability.
If you don't know whether the next boss does magic damage you have no way to optimize your talent tree. If you don't know whether the next encounter requires maximum dps or survivability or many tanks, you need to make an interesting decision. That decision must not be arbitrary. You should still have enough information to make an educated guess! It shouldn't feel like Ludo!

But by surrendering to the internet Blizzard let's go of an entire class of meaningful choices! And there are only two! Imagine what Incomplete Information Problems could accomplish in the context of an MMORPG! Stealth would gain a new meaning! Information gathering in general. Spells that (vaguely!) describe a mob's capabilities, clairvoyance, and much, much more. Unpredictability also makes games much more resistent to balance problems! If you don't know whether you need a paladin or a rogue, due to their special abilities, you'd better take both with you on the trip. Even if one of them is better 70% of the time, you might need the other one for the remaining 30%.

To say this very clearly: This is not about immersion (only). This is about pure gameplay choices. If you knew exactly the sequence of blocks in Tetris, Tetris became a calculation and you could look up the perfect 'moves' on the internet. You cannot, because Tetris demands that you make choices based on incomplete information. As does Soccer, Boxing, even Chess, because it is too complex to calculate! Can you come up with even one successful game that does not demand that the player makes choices based on incomplete information?

PS: Some of the Extra Credit Videos are extremely good. Have a look!


  1. I agree with you, but providing information doesn't mean forcing information. In my guild we've often decided not to check up tactics on new bosses, but go in "blind" and see what we can learn from it. Even if there is tons of information out there, you can choose not to take part of it. The information, or the availability of it is not a problem, as long as we have the option to not have to look at it. In the end I'd rather have the availability of information and turn it down, than not have the information at all. A choice is better than no choice :)

  2. I disagree, Zinn.

    Firstly on a theoretical basis:
    Imagine a button on the log-in screen: "Get T12 now".
    A choice is always better than no choince? I doubt it.

    Regarding the specific example:
    Nice if a you as a guild manage to not have a look at the internet, but in our 25 man guild that would be impossible. Even if the Rl would 'order' it, people would have a look and then claim it is their idea.

    Moreover, for me it is just less fun to hamstring myself and then face a challenge, than to try to throw my whole 'ingenuity' at it.

    I wrote about this issue before: Fun Fallacy.

  3. I'd be amenable to raid quests that provide some lore and background about the bosses abilities. Sort of like the old attunement quests, but WoW would need some sort of lore book that tracked and showed completed quests and their relevant text for this to be useful.

  4. I believe this is a miss quote but Sid Meiers said "a game is a series of interesting chioces". Now if he really said that or not isn't so important because it has been backed by alot of other game developers and bloggers.

    WoW has no choices as I see it... wait let me rephrase that. WoW has choices but thanks to WoWhead and EJ all the correct answers on found online. Once you have the correct answer the game is no longer about making decissions and becomes about repeating prescribed steps. It's like playing DDR with your fingers. Your choices end as soon as the "encounter" begins.

  5. Ideally the boss would actually change in some way(s) each day, per guild or per server or something. That way you would have to adapt to whatever it is on the day.

    Probably about then you find someone in your guild has found a sight that finds out the boss of the days configuration and broadcasts it - and you find that this player isn't interested in challenge, he's interested solely in the reward. Then you find how many other players in your guild feel the same. Then your character hangs himself from the top of the inn in goldshire.

  6. I wouldn't agree that handing out information is the same as handing someone an "IWIN" button, as your comparison with handing people epics kinda would. Even with the perfect information you've still got execution to work with whereas giving awesome epics would remove most of the challenge. Most people are happy with the challenge in execution without the extra challenge of information gathering at the same time it seems. And I don't see the problem in that.

  7. wouldn't agree that handing out information is the same as handing someone an "IWIN" button, as your comparison with handing people epics kinda would.

    I agree. I just brought it up to make clear that it is not always better to have a choice than to not have a choice, as you wrote in the last comment.


    Even with the perfect information you've still got execution to work with whereas giving awesome epics would remove most of the challenge. Most people are happy with the challenge in execution without the extra challenge of information gathering at the same time it seems. And I don't see the problem in that.

    This is, in fact, a very good point. Understanding World of Warcraft also means understanding that having very few choices can still make a good game. Just as Extra Credits actually, state in the video.

    A lot of people like to dance not freestyle, but choreography and this is, also, just about execution. So while most game designers probably agree that you should never pass a chance to introduce a meaningful choince in game, it is quite obvious, that even activities that are based solely on execution can be fun. And - depending on the person - maybe even more fun (?).

  8. This only pushes WoW raiding even deeper into a paradigm that I abhor: that being to assume that we already know everything and then of course have to design encounters with the assumption that we already know everything. I hate pre-scripted fights, not just on the boss end, but on the player end. Wouldn't it be great to have a fight that was unpredictable, so you had to truly respond to abilities, to figure out what to do on the fly, rather than read up exactly what will happen and the best way to do it?

    This would mean nerfing a lot of abilities. No more half-second reactions to avoid getting one-shot. Instead we'd have to do a lot of thinking while raiding. Maybe that's the problem.

  9. Hmm I dont know if you that is the term "incomplete information" is a correct one to use . For example chess is a game with complete information -you know all the rules , the moves right from the start. You also know position on board for every turn.

    It looks to me that you trying to solve the problem which does not exist. You dont like PvE encounters which are repetive , scripted and could be optimized for

    Well the thing is they are like that by design. They are specifically made this way (for many reasons - list too long here too list). Goal of typical theme park pve encounters is not to provide ever changing experience. -That is never their main design objective.

    And for good reason too. Because if you want challenging ever changing experience you can solve it very simply - - without designing complicated AI and systems (which is hard today). Just make it PvP.

    If you take exact same game (WoW) and analyze it from arena perspective its not really predictable or scripted. There are certain patterns which repeats themselves , but so is every other game in existence

    p.s. btw there are nice blog out there The guys writes really good stuff sometimes about game design. He designed my favorite flash card game (kongai) - game with many choices, all information exposed.

  10. It's wouldn't work for mobs/bosses to behave unpredictably unless they fixed the specs to deliver more choices in the battle and by choices I mean the ability to act outside ones specific role as needs dictate. Especially the pure DPS classes/specs.

    The outcome of battles shouldn't be so black and white: wiping or winning, it should be between killing quicker or killing slower.