Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hard Mode Triggers

In Ulduar, hard modes were triggered by an in-game mechanism that was unique to each fight. For example, Yogg had the Keepers, Thorim had the race in the tunnel, and Mimiron had his Big Red Button.

With Trial of the Crusader and ICC, the hard mode trigger was changed to a switch on the interface. This was done to make creating fights easier on the developers, but it has resulted in qualitatively worse raid fights and hard modes. Hard Modes in ICC are uninteresting compared to those in Ulduar, and mainly consist of the boss hitting much harder, having more health, and maybe one new mechanic.

Ulduar hard modes were better because they told a different story than the normal mode fight. This is because the in-game trigger causes the fight to have a determinant phase. And how the determinant phase unfolds changes the story, and seems to have encouraged the developers to make a more interesting hard mode. For example, reaching Thorim before Sif leaves, causes Sif to jump down and join the fight. It makes sense story-wise, and adds a new element to the fight that is not simply more health,damage, or a new debuff.

The determinant phase is not always part of the fight. For example, on Flame Leviathan, the determinant phase is the towers before the fight. But again, the determinant phase causes the hard mode to change in storyline, which results in a better fight.

It's interesting to note that the one Ulduar hard-mode that is generally regarded as worse than the others is Hodir, and Hodir's hard mode does not have a determinant phase. It's a straight timer, and thus is much less interesting than the other fights.

The determinant phase also had the advantage of tying the boss fight to the rest of the instance. As good as the Lich King fight is, for all intents and purposes the rest of ICC may as well not exist when it comes to the storyline of that fight. In contrast, Yogg's hard mode involves the Keepers that you rescued, strongly tying Yogg to the rest of the instance. In Ulduar, the boss fights feel more a part of the instance, and I think that is in large part because of the way the hard modes were designed.

The in-game hard mode triggers are a much better mechanism than the interface trigger. It may have been harder for the developers to make fights, but they rose to the challenge in Ulduar, and it resulted in much better fights and a more engaging raid instance as a whole.


  1. While definitely more engaging, I think part of the problem was it could be a non-intuitive interface. I remember calling for a lot of wipes because "oh crap someone accidentally killed a saronite cloud against Vezax" and similar situations. Conversely I was in lots of runs were hard modes were not intended, and we'd trigger XT's hard mode by accident and have to call a wipe.

    Being able to accidentally trigger or not trigger a hard mode in my opinion is bad design. I agree the Ulduar hard modes were a lot more engaging than ICC and ToC. But I think it's possible to design hard modes that are engaging without an interface that makes it very possible to do the exact opposite of what you intended.

  2. There's no doubt that the hard modes in Ulduar were much better designed. I felt that in Ulduar, they first created hard modes, then stripped away mechanics to make them normal. In ICC/ToC, it felt like the opposite, making some very uninspiring hard modes, with a few notable exceptions.

    As for accidentally triggering hard modes, this wasn't really a problem as far as I could tell. There's no way you'd kill XT's heart without blowing bloodlust and all cooldowns when they nerfed it so it was actually possible, and only very good raid groups would reach Thorim in time. I guess if you went in blind on Iron Council you could be in a bit of trouble, but otherwise I think this was a poor excuse for Blizzard's side for doing it the easy way.

  3. I think accidentally failing to properly trigger a hard mode is completely acceptable, while accidentally triggering an unwanted one is less so. This is easily solved by having both a UI element and an in-game mechanism. The UI element means that you can leave your raid on normal mode and then no matter what happens it stays that way, and the in-game mechanism makes the hard modes connect up with the raid boss as a character experience rather than just a change in numbers.

  4. I really enjoyed the Ulduar toggles for hard modes as well. I did not like the accidental toggles, though. I remember being at Mimiron with a new healer to my Ulduar-era guild, a healer I'd helped recruit who had been in my previous guild, and he was like "hey, what's this button do?" and I furiously typed "DON'T TOUCH IT!" lest he trigger Firefighter, heh.

    I've been in those pugs where someone talks to the wrong NPC before starting the instance and hey, all of a sudden, we have to go kill FL's towers or oops, XT's heart went down.

    I really like the second Anonymous' suggestion: Normal mode via the interface means you can do anything and it won't switch to a hard mode, but if you switch to hard mode in the UI, you CAN trigger a hard mode if you so desire.

    I think that's a fantastic idea and that, along with the basis of this post, should be suggested to Blizzard! I've been trying to think of something along those lines myself, because I really do prefer the in-game mechanics to the UI flips.

    The one issue I see with it is that, in all likelihood, hard modes will involve more boss health -- and if the boss starts out with 50 million health, I don't think they can just bump it up to 80 million health once the NPC is actually spawned. If I'm not mistaken, none of the Ulduar bosses had more health on heroic than on normal. Sure, XT healed to full when you killed the heart, but I think his maximum health value remained static.

    Still, I love this idea. Iron Council hard modes were a lot more fun than, say, BQL as a hard mode.

  5. As epic as it was defeating the Lich King, Ulduar remains my favorite raid of the expansion.

    I agree that in all, the fights in Ulduar all felt like they "belonged" and fit part of a larger story. The mechanics were creative, the personalities of bosses were engaging.

    I'm going to differ from the above posters in that I think having to actually do (or not do) something during the fight itself that triggers hard mode was a really cool challenge. As a storytelling/participating experience, it makes more sense to me- it adds to the "epic-ness" of the encounter.

    I'm not hating on the choice to make a simple menu toggle for hard mode- that's fine too. It's just not as interesting to me.

  6. I don't think there is any doubt Ulduar was the best raid in WoTLK.

    Naxx was recycled, ToC was just a stop gap.

    It's just a shame Ulduar was relatively short lived. I mean, when Cata drops we'll have been in ICC for a year.

  7. Also going to have to agree that Ulduar was the best raid in WotLK.

    The really disappointing thing was that there was such a huge story arc build-up to ICC, including ToC itself, and then to get in there it was such a dreary place with fights that didn't really catch my fancy.

    Ulduar definitely had the advantage of being pretty to look at.

    I still don't understand why we were only given roughly 4 months at Tier 8, but then were expected to last 12 months at Tier 10. I definitely would have enjoyed more time in Ulduar at the intended difficulty.

  8. Having done Naxx 1.0 then BC, I skipped most of the raid content in WotLK. By the time I got around to raiding, it was ICC. 2 months later Im bored to tears of it. This month my guild went on a guild run of Ulduar HMs and I gotta admit, I love Ulduar. Been able to determine your own difficulty path is something the game has been needing for a long time. Initially, heroic meant hard core; normal meant casual but there was never any in between. Ulduar provided that middle ground by allowing you to choose your fate and for that, I tip my hat to blizz. We need to see more of that. I dont buy that you need to hard switch modes,if the encounter starts because ppl are idiots, idiots die. simple. Coordinate and talk to your ppl more! Its that simple.

  9. If I'm not mistaken, none of the Ulduar bosses had more health on heroic than on normal. Sure, XT healed to full when you killed the heart, but I think his maximum health value remained static.

    No, you are mistaken, XT increased his health by 50%. See Heartbreak.

  10. I have to agree with some of the assertions above. Hodir was not the worst Hard Mode in Ulduar, XT was. Hodir's Hard Mode had no change in what he did; you just started clearing it naturally as part of progression, so it was free loot. XT, on the other hand, causes you to throttle your DPS else you make the fight harder when you don't want to.

    While the gimmicky start conditions of the Ulduar Hard Modes was certainly nice, I think I enjoy the "switches" in ToGC and ICC more. It allows for the raid to relax, knowing that they're going to do the mode they want to, and not get screwed out of Hard Mode (or out of an easy clear) because of an arbitrary trigger.

  11. I doubt the single decision to change hard mode triggers impacted the ICC design. Most likely different design teams worked on the raids.

  12. I have to say that I definitely agree. I enjoyed the storyline-related triggers in Ulduar much more than simply flipping a switch in ICC.

    Unfortunately, the potential to accidentally trigger a hard mode isn't really an acceptable outcome when it comes to raid design. On top of that, the potential for griefing in pugs is also a pitfall of such a system.

    I'll miss the Ulduar-style heroic triggers, but there is something to be said for a heroic mode that cannot be accessed until the instance has been cleared in Normal mode, ala ICC's scheme.

  13. Rohan - Hm, thanks for clearing that up. I thought that increased health pools and such was a technical stumbling block they couldn't get past without respawning the NPC. It explains why TOGC was a whole separate instance and why you always get a short load screen when you switch difficulties in ICC. If that's NOT a technical stumbling block, then there should be no reason at all why they couldn't do as the second Anonymous poster suggested:

    1) Normal switch = anything you do cannot change the mode to heroic
    2) Heroic switch = in-game trigger mechanic is turned on

    Very interesting stuff. I would love to see this suggested to Blizzard officially.

  14. Excellent argument.

    I think the more they make the game UI friendly, the less it appeals to those of us who tend to rely on lore, in-game story and logical rationalization of why the world (or this boss fight, to be specific) came to be.

    The button on the interface, in my honest opinion, is more of an achievement thing, and less of an accomplishment thing, if that makes any sense.

  15. I agree with most of the posters here, Ulduar had so much more behind the fights, and the hard modes were well designed...sure you could sometime pop it by accident or something but thats was very rare.

    Also @ poster that said that different raid devs were working on these 3 raids...yeah thats true, Ulduar was Tigole's last raid before he left WoW team, and he made pretty awesome job at it, while the ToC and ICC was made by devs who were left behind and probably some new one