Game design, Opinion, WoW

But I don’t WANT to recycle

Please, I've had enough... PLEASE GOD NO MORE.

This post is by Razzmatazz.

I’m sick of trash. More specifically, raid trash. Entering that room in Bastion of Twilight right after Halfus and thinking “hurray, we’ll reach the next boss in half an hour” is getting on my nerves. Trash isn’t fun. It’s usually of the “you don’t really have to pay attention” variety, which basically means you’re playing on auto-pilot for half a raid, lazily pressing roughly the right buttons, occasionally having someone die because everyone’s convinced the trash doesn’t really pose a real threat to the raid anyway. It feels like having to wade through large amounts of boring stuff in a raid to occasionally get the privilege to do the actually fun fights. It’s bad game design. Let me try to argue why, and propose some possible solutions.

This is hardly a new issue. WoW players have been moaning about trash since basically the DAWN OF TIME, also known as vanilla. In fact, the issue’s older than that still. But WoW’s specific brand of raid design really brought it to the forefront. Anyone who raided Molten Core back in vanilla will be able to tell you that, son, you’ve got nuthin’ to complain about. And they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Things used to be much worse. MUCH worse. Millions of trash mobs in a single instance, with about three different kinds of mobs in total, with zero abilities each. Only to fight a boss which wasn’t much more than a glorified trash mob in terms of spells and fight strategy. In an environment blander than Bland Street in Blandville, in the country of Bland. But I digress.

We’ve come a long way since then. Is what I’d like to say, but we actually haven’t. Sure, things are better these days. Blackwing Descent has pleasingly small numbers of trash which can quite quickly be disposed of, and the little there is often has some interesting ability to keep you on your toes. I’d name trash epics as a positive evolution as well, but those aren’t exactly new. They’ve been around since Molten Core, they just occasionally went away for a while. The thing is that Blizzard seems to have a sort of schizophrenic stance on trash. I’m not really sure where they want to go with it. Blackwing Descent, as mentioned, is almost empty aside from the bosses. Trial of the Crusader WAS empty aside from the bosses. Some bosses have two trash mobs guarding them, others have entire ARMIES. Some mobs are interesting and require you to pay attention, most are basically harmless and lazily designed. That’s not variety, to me it shows Blizzard’s just a tiny bit confused. And I can’t really blame them.

The pinnacle of WoW trash design: glorious Mount Hyjal.

They’ve made it terribly clear in the past what exactly their intentions are with trash mobs in raids. They’re a pacing mechanism, and little else. Blizzard’s not exactly ashamed about that. They just don’t want you to clear a raid in an hour, hopping from boss fight to boss fight instantly (but what about Trial of the Crusader? I’M SO CONFUSED). Which I guess is understandable. Is it though? Why CAN’T doing raids just be about the bosses? It’s not like you generally run out of stuff to do all that quickly, unless you’re in a very hardcore raid group. We spend most of our raids wiping on bosses we haven’t killed before, or wiping on bosses which aren’t “on farm” yet. That wouldn’t change without the trash pacing mechanism.

To me the whole idea of trash as a pacing mechanism seems to stem from an old school of design which we’re basically past now. “Stuff” in WoW used to take time. This was true for practically everything. Obviously, most things still DO take time. But not nearly as much as they once did. Blizzard has taken great efforts over the past few years to get rid of the grind from just about every aspect of the game. And by extension, to make sure it doesn’t take a player several hours to finally start having fun. Reputation through running dungeons. LFD. Daily quests (granted, those could be seen as a different kind of grind, but I think few people would argue they’re not superior to the good old “collect 1500 timbermaw feathers” model). The examples are many and varied. I’d argue a great deal of the fundamental design changes over the past few years have at least been partially caused by that motivation to – in most cases literally- “speed things up”.

Trash isn’t fun. Does anyone think trash is fun? If you do, please tell me in the comments, because I’d like to have a word with you (a friendly one, I swear). It’s never been fun. It’s always been a way to slow us down. Why does trash still need to slow us down while everything else in the game these days seems to be designed with the specific goal of NOT slowing us down, of doing everything to make us have fun as quickly as possible? I don’t understand. We wouldn’t blaze through the raid content, we promise. The difficulty of the bosses right now will make sure of that. The problem’s only augmented by that ‘other’ raid design element in WoW: the fact that farming is basically required to make any progress, an inherent part of endgame as we all want those shiny purples to optimise our characters. So when trash might be vaguely entertaining the first time through a raid, it’s practically vomit-inducing the tenth time through. Get rid of it Blizzard, please.

Without trash there would be no more hilarious mega-adds. Do we really want that?!

What do you mean you don’t want to? Can’t really blame them. The problem is: do WE really want to get rid of trash entirely? I honestly don’t think so. Was TotC as dull as it was because we were forced to hop from boss to boss, with no interruptions in between to help us get a breather? Maybe partially. I’m sure things’d be aided by more interesting boss design (were you the guy who loved Faction Champions? get out, we don’t want your kind over here), and the fact that raids usually aren’t made up of a single room probably helps too. Regardless, maybe there’s some use for in-between-boss interruptions. So, I’ll try and come up with a couple of other solutions.

Perhaps other games can form a source of inspiration in this regard. Let’s look at the recently released Dragon Age 2, for example. Oh wait. Moving on.

I think anything that adds “flavour” helps, really. Epics is one thing, at least they provide some form of reward for wading through all of those mobs. Same with reputation, seeing a bar very slowly increase to get a nice ring at the end of it is an extremely simple mechanic that WORKS to make things ever so slightly more engaging. It doesn’t impact the fundamental problem at heart here though, which is that actually killing trash isn’t fun. Fortunately Blizzard’s made some steps in the right direction. I think moving more towards the mini-boss school of design (as seen in Blackwing Descent or even Icecrown Citadel’s dogs) is definitely a good thing as well – at least to me it seems far more interesting to be fighting one or two big angry mobs with a couple of abilities that actually matter than a pack of five which don’t do much but generic “damage”. Maybe add some daily or weekly quests not involved with bosses, but with trash.

Or if you really want to get interesting, add some different kind of pacing mechanic. Something we’ve also seen in the past, but not nearly enough. The chess event wasn’t really a boss fight, I’d say, just a more interesting way of breaking up the dungeon (God, Karazhan did SO MUCH right – a story for another time, I suppose). A vehicle related section à la Ulduar might get boring after the fifteenth time as well, but at least it mixes things up a bit. Timed runs in a Zul’Aman sense also manage to make even the most mundane trash mob an intense EVENT. Looking at other games more than WoW itself, two elements I really tend to appreciate as well are some form of environmental obstacles or some basic puzzles. Although fitting those into WoW’s obviously quite unique (in comparison with singleplayer games) 10/25-person multiplayer environment, especially considering they need to be easily repeatable without getting boring (hardly the case with a lot of singleplayer puzzles), might be quite a stretch. Just ANYTHING that’s not more generic trash, please.

Even the trash in KZ was fun. At least when it died in visually entertaining ways.

The problem with all of these is simple: they all require far more design work to implement than just putting five packs of generic trash mobs between us and the next boss. I can scarcely imagine how much design and programming went into the chess event, at least compared to “generic trash”, and the result – while entertaining – wasn’t exactly the greatest thing ever. Regardless, I think trash in its current, primarily Bastion of Twilight-format, has run its course. It’s time for a change. I could make a bin-related joke here, but that would be gratuitous so I will leave it at that. What do you guys think?

Discussion

15 thoughts on “But I don’t WANT to recycle

  1. I do like trash… sort of. You see, it depends on the kind of trash and what it makes me DO. Running through tossing out my BIGGEST POSSIBLE AOE is not fun. Having things that need locking up, interrupting, maybe a bit of coordination–I like those. Boss fights, in general, have a limited reason to use a lot of things in our respective toolkits and GOOD trash makes us do that.

    On the flip side of pacing for progression, I also like to have a bit of trash in between bosses to help me unwind and reset for the next boss. Trash in limited supply helps me recharge the batteries a little bit, and think on a different level than a boss fight, and I like that.

    Trash also helps fill up the environment, to make it seem like a living breathing place. Perhaps it’s a throwback from PnP games which darn near required trash just so you had some bloody hope of being of sufficient level to look at the evil guy in his nest of evil without being withered to ash.

    I don’t need a lot of trash. I’d hate to go back to halls and entire caverns of it with the group randomly wondering just how much longer they must slog before they see a boss. However, a mini-boss/trash (let’s say up to 3) between me and the next boss is something I’d surely miss if it was entirely removed.

    Posted by Windsoar | March 24, 2011, 2:57 am
  2. Whats even more soul crushing than ordinary trash is re-spawning trash in the same room as a boss that kills you when you are fighting.

    This has happened to us on the council fight and Cho’gall and just breaks your soul after wiping for an hour or so to get these things coming back.

    Posted by Voltigeuse | March 24, 2011, 4:12 am
  3. I am with Windsoar on this one. Trash is important and should be preserved and I’d even go ahead to say that the trash we have now is actually properly dosed (except for the stupid elementals in Conclave room, seriously whoever thought it will be fun putting 2 and 2 types of mobs that counter each other on “random” movement routes deserves to be shot. Repeatedly). Maybe the first 3 middle packs in BoT could be cut down to 2, considering you’re clearing one side as well, but that’s like 5 minutes more.

    As a raid leader and healer, I welcome trash. It gives me the precious minutes to kickback and relax, think ahead about next boss and what needs to be done, what needs to be done differently and who will do it. And I believe it’s like this for many others.

    Moreover, trash IS boring. Which is actually it’s biggest contribution to an instance. If you were just fed bosses left and right, downing them and looting, the whole progress experience would feel more boring and those boss kills would become all grey and boring.

    Yes, trash does miss something nowadays, epics just don’t cut it anymore. I seriously believe there should be some reputation bound to instance like there was in the past, maybe with crafting recipes, maybe with vanity pets or whatever, just to give you the sense of progressing “something” while doing trash. Then again even this reputation bar fills up eventualy.

    So yeah, while trash might be boring and take 30 minutes to clear, it populates the instance making it more believable place to be, it breaks down the dragonkilling to make boss encounters stand out more and it gives you a little break to play on autopilot (and generate massive repair bills :))

    @Voltigeuse: Have someone in the raid to get one of these addons that track trash respawn timers. We got jumped like this on Chog’all once, not fun at all.

    Posted by Rahana | March 24, 2011, 7:38 am
  4. I actually have to agree with Windsoar and Rahana on this one – I’d rather have some sort of trash than not have it, for all the reasons they both stated so well. In particular, because trash gives me the chance to use a lot of the abilities that aren’t often needed (or possible) on bosses, and because it can offer various sort of minigames in the form of CC, kill order, interrupts, etc – or ignoring those and brute forcing. All while operating at much less focus than you need for a boss.

    What ruins trash for me is when the rest of the raid don’t want to “bother” with the fun stuff like CC, or when it’s designed like that first area in AQ20 – like, the elementals Rahana mentioned are particularly obnoxious because, right before a fight that requires considerable amounts of thought and coordination you have to be at really high focus and attention for the trash. You could say that’s preparing you for the bosses, or you could say it’s exhausting you before you even reach them. Same for the dwarves in BWD, or even the un-CCable hound/drakonid patrols which require healers to be at maxx focus when pulled. They’re all somewhere between fun-challenging and annoying-painful, and which probably depends on your mood (and how tired you are) at the time – but because it’s “only trash”, it’s very hard for a raid to approach a genuinely difficult trash pull with the right amount of focus and effort.

    The other thing is that the trash in BoT and BWD, though it has a few spots obviously intended to be frustrating/amusing, actually doesn’t take all the long to clear and isn’t particularly plentiful or painful. I can’t think of a single TBC raid with trash that easy and sparse. Heck, Karazhan was so full of trash you could hardly move ten yards without clearing a pack, and most of it was pretty high focus stuff too.

    Short of entirely rethinking instance pacing and design, it does seem like making “fun” trash is the best way to give raids some of that valuable switch-off/switch-over time between boss encounters while still keeping them focused, so the question becomes how to make trash more fun. All the ways I could think of doing this have already been talked about by yourself and commenters, so I have nothing to add for once :)

    EDIT: Except that the Sindragosa spider “gauntlet” (room) was HIDEOUS. NEVER AGAIN.

    Posted by Charles | March 24, 2011, 1:27 pm
  5. All very fair counterpoints, thanks guys!

    My main problem is actually with the sort of trash design WotLK became famous for (spider “gauntlet” is a great example of that), and I do hope the move away from that is something that’ll continue. But I also think, as I made clear in the post, that some of that sort of design still lingers in the likes of BoT (Blackwing Descent is far more pleasant trash-wise). Granted, trash DOES serve other purposes, thanks for pointing those out!

    Posted by Razz | March 24, 2011, 2:09 pm
  6. Agreed with the large majority of points from the preceding comments–I’m strongly in favor of large amounts of trash within an instance. I’m also a huge fan of mini-bosses, or quirky packs, because I find that they keep me engaged in the action. And there’s no better way to earn my affection than really punishing trash, the kind that makes you groan, a la the first hallway in TK. (Oh yes, I’m also someone who really liked Faction Champs).

    But, trash oftentimes serves one more important function–it trains you on some of the bosses’ abilities. The two guardians in Cho’gall’s room (the ones that split into black oozes) and the shadow-crashing mobs in Vezax’s room, are great examples of boss ability previews.

    As much as we players hate to admit it, there is a value in ambiance, because like Windsoar aptly pointed out, trash creates the feeling of venturing into our enemies’ lairs. And, on top of that, I think we all recognize some value in having to work for our epics. Otherwise, we’d be fine with boss spawns in the middle of empty spaces. Oh wait, that was Tier 9 …

    Posted by Vixsin | March 24, 2011, 3:30 pm
  7. The timed gauntlet / trap type trash thats just there to keep you away from the boss for 10 extra minutes is dumb. But after 5 months of TOC I really do prefer trash to no trash.

    Posted by Sarlalian | March 24, 2011, 6:46 pm
  8. I’m afraid I’m in thr pro-trash group. I always enjoyed the trash in ICC; that’s not to say that they couldn’t use more things like the chess game in Karazhan – I agree there are more ways to break up a dungeon than just sticking a big group of mobs in the way and it’s something I think Blizzard should look at. Mini-bosses are another good example of an alternative that works well. Variety is the spice of life as they say.

    But I still maintain that trash is fun (or at least can be, probably depends on the trash. I can see why people don’t like the gauntlets but personally I don’t have a problem with them).

    Posted by Runzwithfire.co.uk | March 25, 2011, 7:42 am
  9. I’m also a fan of trash – especially hard trash. I don’t care if it rewards you with rep for some inconsequential faction invented just for the sake of having something to give rep for. Not only does trash help pace an instance and break up the monotony but it helps immensely with atmosphere. Imagine running through ICC or Ulduar or BT or BWL with no trash between the bosses. Just a bunch of empty, barren rooms and long deserted hallways. Doesn’t sound very exciting to me.

    I think the biggest “problem” with trash now compared to trash in the days of vanilla and even TBC is that back then when a new raid was released or you made it to the next wing of a raid zone you could potentially be faced with trash the likes of which you’d never seen. Figuring out the best way to handle trash was often as engaging as figuring out some bosses today. There has to be some kind of way to inject some more creativity, or at least challenge, into trash than what they’ve done the last couple of years, but throwing the whole concept out because it’s a bit stale seems counterproductive.

    This game would be so much better off if Blizzard would just develop it to their OWN standards again. They earned their reputation for impeccable game design long before they started designing by committee. Their efforts to make everything somehow magically universally appealing, while admirable, have not only tied their hands in regards to game design but gradually eliminated much of the soul of the game.

    Posted by Seven | March 26, 2011, 10:29 am
  10. “Blizzard has taken great efforts over the past few years to get rid of the grind from just about every aspect of the game.”

    Like the addition of resilience so that you have to do separate PvE and PvP grinds? ;)

    Posted by Ikasero | March 26, 2011, 10:34 am
  11. i like SOME trash – you need a break between bossts
    to be honest BWD is perfect – although with the tiny numbers the epic drops become insanely rare

    but the 1-2 groups a boss – with mechanics – and the little groups of 4 in atramedes room – brilliant trash

    you need some though, it wasnt just the single room with ToC it was the constant intensity, you need at least 5 mins between bosses where that guy who didnt go to the loo on the propper break can, etc etc

    Posted by mark | March 26, 2011, 11:58 am
  12. I dislike trash respawning in boss rooms, other than that I have to say that yes; I enjoy trash.
    Blizzard are mostly shying away from the “four enemies with no abilities” route now and most trash actually have mechanics you have to pay attention to. Some of the groups are more like mini-bosses than the enemies you will find outside the instance walls.

    I spend most of my raiding time killing the same boss over and over again, how can I complain at also killing the same trash over and over again? There’s very little difference.

    Posted by Nevard | March 26, 2011, 3:08 pm
  13. I very much appreciate all of the comments on this, and my fellow bloggers responding with their own views. I think it’s great a lot of people are standing up and defending trash, and have pointed out some of its merits so wonderfully.

    However, I also think some people seem to have misunderstood me somewhat. I wasn’t really arguing for the outright REMOVAL of trash from the game. To quote myself: “do WE really want to get rid of trash entirely? I honestly don’t think so.” I was contemplating ways to improve what I think is a flawed pacing mechanic, or at the extreme, a replacement of trash with a DIFFERENT pacing mechanism which might be more enjoyable. I don’t think a dungeon with just bosses and nothing else would generally work all that well for reasons you’ve all elaborated on (although that core idea has certainly worked in other contexts, as anyone who’s played Shadow of the Colossus will point out – but naturally WoW raids are a different cup of tea entirely). Sorry if that wasn’t entirely clear from the post!

    Posted by Razz | March 26, 2011, 5:21 pm

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