Time…is not on my side.

Posted: June 22, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts

There is never enough time, unless you’re serving it.

-Malcolm Forbes

 

I love to raid.  I really do.

Just as I prefer a good group to soloing, I much prefer several good groups to just one, all united in a single goal, marching together toward the same horizon.

A lot of players don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of raiding, but find that it’s difficult enough to gather enough people together, without having to worry about gathering enough people together for an extended play session.

Let’s face it.  Time’s not on our side.  Just as many players find it difficult to gather a stable group together for a few hours, so too is it difficult (more so, really) to gather several groups together for the same time. 

It’s why we see so many “raid guilds”, really.  Many players have learned that one of the best ways to make sure you’ve got a solid raid force is to make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to attendance expectations.  When H hour rolls around for R raid, you want to know that it’s time to start moving toward a target…not time to start wondering where the tank or the healers or the debuffers are.

“Just 5 more minutes.”  “Hold on, I think he’s logging in now.”  “Let me give her a call and find out.”  “Wait, he just logged into AIM.”  “Her roommate just sent me a tell.”

Sound familiar?

Most of us have been there, sitting around waiting for the raid to begin.  Sometimes, you see some raiders fire up other accounts or log into alts to fill critical roles.  Other times, leaders of the raid might start looking for friends or even strangers to fill in the gaps.  Maybe the target is changed to something easier.  Still other times, when all else fails, the raid ends up being cancelled. 

Even then, just starting a raid on-time doesn’t mean anything all of the time.  For all but the top raid guilds, time doesn’t get easier once the pulls start coming in.  The biggest, baddest enemies aren’t the ones with epic tags over their heads, but quite often come in the guise of otherworldy beasts like “real life”, “AFK”, and of course “Linedeath”, whom often rides in on a dark horse to carry away just the wrong person at just the wrong time.

Even without these villians, the raid itself can take longer than expected.  For whatever reason, the encounters don’t go right, or wipes happen, or the target gets healed, or an add isn’t locked down or killed fast enough, or any of a seemingly infinate number of additional problems that can crop up unexpectadely. 

So, as if on cue, players start to drop from the raid.  Someone has to leave for work, or someone has to get up early for work, or someone is falling asleep at the keyboard.  If your guild isn’t organized around one time zone, it’s possible you have members on the raid still enjoying sunlight while others are starting to hear late night newscasts from their living rooms. 

Soon, the raid’s leadership is left wondering whether or not they have enough members to continue, and often, this is where many of the more casual raid forces (the ones who haven’t packed it in by now) start to give up for the night, vowing to return again next week.  Surely, they will return…to start the raid from the beginning, once more.

To me, that’s a problem.

When I’m running a dinner table RPG and it runs long, we agree to pick up “where we left off” when we get together next week.  I don’t reset the session for the players, forcing them to reroll the dice again just to make them get through the attack they’d started the previous week.  I don’t require them to make all the same decisions just to get back to where they were.  No, we pick up “where we left off” the previous week.

Even in most often the challenge is just getting to where you need to be, and then you’re able to pick up from that “check point” in future playsessions.  In this way, we’re able to play our games in more digestable chunks, rather than being forced to essentially eat the entire meal in one sitting or watch as it’s thrown away – only to be served anew the following week. 

Instanced raids are a fact. 

These instanced raids already exist in most MMO’s right now.  Raid forces can enter, fight, and clear a zone … and then re-enter the raid zone the next week.  This solved the major problem of bottlenecks and “ganking” for most popular raid targets (an issue of some importance in older generation MMO’s like the original Everquest).

Raid forces are smaller.

Another fact of the newer generation of MMO’s.  No longer do small armies of 50 to 70 or more players need to be mass assembled.  No, most modern MMO raid forces are smaller strike teams of just 25 or less typically.  This helped alleviate the massive full time organization required just to field such forces, and it truly helped to break open raiding into a more mainstream activity.

The only real barrier left is time.  Many raids – most, I’d wager – do take only a couple of hours for even a relatively casual raid force to complete in most modern MMO’s.  However, even a couple of hours is still a heap of time when you’ve got kids, work, and other obligations.  Add in longer raid times (which seems to be a trend on the rise in the past year) and suddenly raiding can seem all but impossible to many gamers who would genuinely like to give it a go.

I’m talking about serious gamers who enjoy a good challenge, with the only issue being their inability to stay logged in to a game for longer than an hour or two. 

The answer?  Checkpoints.

Console games have been using checkpoints for decades.  It’s the logical partner to instancing, and already has precedent in MMO’s which break long quest lines into individual parts.  Everquest 2 already uses this idea to great effect in Unrest. 

Even the implementation would be relatively simple.  Just treat it as a repeatable access quest or a droppable access item.  Each time you enter a raid zone that’s intended to take longer than an hour or two, just drop in a logical stopping point – a point the raiders can start up at again the next week.

Imagine a raid dungeon with 5 mini-bosses, culminating in a major showdown with the big boss.  Perhaps there is a door near the entrance to the dungeon that is magically locked.  Killing the second mini-boss would drop the key to open the door.  The key can’t be traded or transferred to another player, so a raid leader would be the likely winner of such a key. 

At this point, the raid force can decide to either forge ahead with the rest of the dungeon…or just take a break for the week.  Exiting the dungeon instance would lock all of the raiders out for a week (or whatever), but the next time they enter, they could decide to go through the first two mini-bosses again, or clear just one of them, or just skip them both and go right for the door, which opens up part 2 of the dungeon.

In this way, raid forces composed of time-sensitive players would be able to still clear through content.  It could also give developers a great deal more flexibility in designing large dungeons – since they could build dungeons which might require 10, 12, or even 20 hours to clear through…provided the raiders were given the ability to “pick up where they left off” from week to week.

Time still wouldn’t be on their side.  However, at least then it wouldn’t be an active combatant, either. 

 

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Comments
  1. oakstout says:

    Cool idea. Many a time I’ve been in an instance with some old friends and someone has serious wife agro and has to go or their kids banged his head or something similar. Having a checkpoint goal would make reentering easy.

    I think in WoW, Mara has a quest you can do so you can enter the dungeon in the middle with a staff. And Ulda has a backdoor you can go to that by passes some stuff I think.

    But the key idea is nice. But why limit it to just the raid leader? Why can’t each person in the raid get something that signifies they have done this part of the dungeon and can move on? But, I would agree that everyone would have to have the key to re-enter at the correct door in order to bypass those bosses. That would prevent people from skipping ahead in the instance that haven’t earned the right.

    But the idea would make it nicer for those that can’t make long drawn out raids.

    Great idea Ken.

  2. Xeavn says:

    Honestly I have to say I think WoW does better on this than EQ2 does, although I am not sure why. It seems like Sony should have implemented something like Checkpoints by now.

    In World of Warcraft, rather than locking you out after you leave an instance, you are locked to that instance until instance reset day. (I think Tuesday usually..)

    In the meantime you can return to the instance if you haven’t finished it. Any bosses that are killed stay dead, and can’t be killed again until the instance resets. Trash mobs sadly respawn, otherwise you almost could pick up where you left off.

    In the early days of Molten Core we used to leave a Warlock behind with a couple of friends, and then the 3 of them could summon the rest of the raid back to the exact spot we left off at. It was nice actually.

    It would be far easier to just to set up a checkpoint system though, and allow the entire raid to re-enter and begin again at thier last checkpoint.

  3. Rick says:

    Doesn’t WoW do this with some of their zones? You enter the zone and start a raid, and you’ve got a week before it resets? I’m not sure it’s exactly your checkpoint model, but I’m pretty sure that mobs that are killed stay killed until the dungeon resets after X amount of time.

    I’m not a raid fan, for most of the reasons you mentioned. Most of it has to do with RL for me. A young kid, a wife, schedules that are rarely predictable…I remember trying to juggle all that in EQ, being the druid in charge of Evacs…group members hate it when you go AFK 🙂 Even the simplicity of WoW instances was often too much of a commitment, but that’s due to me, not the design.

    And sometimes work seems like herding cats all day. I don’t want to do it at night too 🙂

  4. Arawn says:

    I love it. Rather than a key that only the raid leader gets, though, I’d suggest a mechanic like tokens in the BGs….you win against the boss guarding the door, and the tokens show up in your bag just like an Arathi Basin Mark of Honor. Everyone present gets one, and only groups where everyone has a mark can use them to bypass the content cleared to get to the door.

    Bam.

  5. oakstout says:

    I think some of the High End Raids do this, but there is still re-poping of mobs that takes place if your in the instance to long. I know this happens on a lot of 5 man dungeons, not sure of the big Raids.

    So if you die a lot or get side tracked and have to get back in the instance, there is a chance that the mobs you started with, not main bosss now, will be there waiting on you if you leave and come back.

  6. Kilanna says:

    Nice idea Kendricke,

    I would also argue this not just with regards to raiding but also with regards to some major quest line updates. For example, the other day I was doing the quest update to talk to Nagafen for “Speak as a Dragon”. To fight your way down into the bowels of Lavastorm to speak to Nagafen took us certainly well over an hour and a half.

    I have no problem with signature quests/raids being long and involved – in fact I welcome it. Breaking these down into more bite sized pieces though would be really cool.

    I love the idea of “checkpoints” and EQII have sort of picked it up with the Portals between Lavastorm Docks, Sol Eye entrance and further down into Sol Eye. You could implement this by Cog portals, or scrying stones or magic carpets or keys to secret shortcut passages or whatever. Character by character – not like access quests where only one member of the group has to do it.

    Say I could have split my trip to Nagafen into a couple of smaller bite size adventures. I have still had to complete all the content, so no cheating there – but much less husband aggro about staying up too late 🙂

    Happy hunting everyone 🙂

  7. Tomanak says:

    isnt this something SOE has discussed implementing? I could have sworn I read one of the Devs state that they were looking at a similar mechanic for raid zones. Not a big raider myself, so wasnt paying much attention

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