The design of PvE raid bosses in World of Warcraft is a complicated process. Each person on the boss design team gets to create their own encounter(s) in a raid dungeon, sometimes with collaboration on some of the trickier bosses. Over the course of the game’s development, the fights have become more and more complicated. The bosses have more abilities, requiring more movement, and more coordination as a group. These bosses are requiring greater memory demands, greater multi-tasking, and faster reactions to things happening in the environment. These actions all happen while we also complete a complicated series of button presses or mouse-clicks related to filling a specific role in the raid (tanking, healing, or damage dealing).
Over this series of posts, I will talk about how the Mists of Pandaria raid encounters are pushing the limits of human memory, reaction speed limitations, and visual perception abilities (for good or bad!). In this blog series, I’m going to talk about several problems that plague boss encounters, where the fight mechanics are breaking several core psychology principles (related to memory, reaction speed, and visual perception abilities). I will also explain how these principles matter for being able to learn boss encounters in WOW, especially as it impacts LFR versions of these encounters (where we can expect players to have spent less time researching the encounters in advance).
Can you remember all the mechanics?
First, we are going to talk about Memory abilities and how it impacts our ability to learn how to kill bosses in WOW.
- Short-term Memory: Your ability to remember items over a short period of time (Wikipedia definition). Science cites 5 to 9 items (7 + 2) as the range for the maximum numbers of unrelated words or digits you can hold in mind. In the cases of WOW, you could think of this as the maximum number of unrelated boss mechanics that a player in the raid could remember if your raid leader listed off boss mechanics and you didn’t spend time to memorize them before the fight. Once we pass around 7 boss mechanics, you probably couldn’t actually recite all the mechanics back to your raid leader (and most people wouldn’t even get all 7 right). In addition, you naturally tend to remember the first and last numbers from the list better than ones in the middle. Basically, your ability to remember new information is limited.
- Working Memory: Your ability to both briefly store information and use that information to achieve a goal (Wikipedia definition). In this case, not only remembering those boss mechanics, but responding to them appropriately during the fight (actually flying to nests, 1, 2, and 5 while also healing your party members, rather than just remembering that you need to fly to nests 1, 2, and 5). The ability to both remember the mechanics and use that information to perform the fight correctly is using a system with very constrained and limited resources.
- Long-term Memory: Your long-term memory ability is much less limited than short-term or working memory abilities. You can remember thousands of vocabulary words, math, physics, what to do at your job, etc. If the boss strategy requires too many elements, your goal prior to arriving in the boss room is to study and memorize all the boss mechanics and strategies. Also, with practice (many, many wipes on the boss), you can learn to remember an almost unlimited number of boss mechanics, ability lists, or whatever.
The problem of increasingly more complex fights in WOW:
- It has become apparent quickly to me in Mists of Pandaria that the boss encounters in raids are quickly passing the “sweet spot” in our short-term and working memory capacity. Thus, most boss fights, especially for normal and heroic modes, involves simply memorizing a choreographed “dance” for each fight (committing the boss strategy details to long-term memory in advance by reading boss strategy guides and videos), and then practicing that “dance” with other people in the encounter until you have fully learned the fight “dance”.
- Many people doing fights in LFR don’t spend the time outside of the game learning the “dance,” and the fight mechanics can’t be done with only using short-term memory and working memory abilities when you first encounter the fights. This is why Blizzard has to either totally trivialize the encounters (so you don’t have to remember any of the strategy involved at all), or players generally have a miserable LFR experience. This also applies to more “casual” guilds that may not have the time to commit to serious advanced studying of fights ahead of time. My own guild makes people read and sign threads before arriving, and several of the TOT raid encounters have exceeded our own memory capacities based on the need to really spend an hour or more memorizing the boss details to understand the fight in advance.
Average number of boss mechanics by raid dungeon
I pulled up the Wowpedia boss mechanic page for each boss of each raid dungeon described below. I counted the number of boss abilities and computed an average “memory score” per dungeon. I have also included the minimum and maximum memory score. In the case of Patchwerk from the original Naxxramas being the lowest memory score, he ranked as a 3: Hateful Strike threat/health requirements, range requirements to prevent kiting, and the frenzy/enrage mechanic that caused most of the wipes.
Table of average, minimum, and maximum memory scores by raid dungeon (in previous tiers, some were combined, such as BOT and BWD into one mean for the two major dungeons in that tier. I left individual scores for MV/HOF/TOES):
|SSC and TK||7.9||3||17|
|BWD and BOT||11.4||7||17|
|Throne of Thunder||12.91666667||9||19|
and as a graph for easy viewing:
Conclusions and recommendations:
There is a fairly consistent trend for increases in memory demands over time since Molten Core. In addition, the type of overly complicated fight, which used to be the “end” boss of each tier, is now being placed early in the raid dungeon, causing roadblocks for new guilds trying to get some early progress through normal modes.
Throne of Thunder is really an outlier in terms of the memory demands placed upon average raiders. What is actually more concerning, however, is the huge jump in memory requirements between the previous raid tier (MV, HOF, and TOES) having fairly straightforward mechanics, and Throne of Thunder’s huge list of conditional requirements that need to be remembered. Even the first TOT boss, Jin’rokh, which is the least memory intensive has huge conditional requirements on every mechanic: run out when you get the ball, but not over another spark or you will wipe the raid, and not through the water or you will wipe the raid, and also not where the water will later spawn or you may cause deaths later in the fight. Even for average raiders, this starts to be information overload when the raid leader tries to explain the fight.
Suggestions for LFR design and the Dungeon Journal: For the LFR version of Jin’rokh, you still have 14 bullet points in the dungeon journal (though under my memory scoring strategy, this fight had a memory score of 9 – since earlier raid tiers didn’t have a dungeon journal). The LFR journal just makes it possible to ignore some of those mechanics and still live (though there is absolutely no clear indication of which points will still kill your raid members or not). If someone read you all the names of all the points and asked you to repeat just the names of them back to you, you couldn’t actually do it after only hearing the list once.
For LFR versions of fights, rather than keeping approximately the same number of mechanics to remember and just making mistakes less deadly, it may be necessary to remove a greater number of mechanics from the LFR versions of fights. In general, I’d recommend to keep the number of points on the dungeon journal for LFR fights below 10. Then, the people without raiding addons or watching fights in advance would have an easier time learning the scaled down version of the fights. The raid designers do this some, but as the number of boss mechanics increases, the memory demands for LFR versions of fights needs to stay in a range that people can handle. However, if you look at the dungeon journal, it is pretty much uninterpretable for people running LFR OR normal-mode encouters, and this is not really either a helpful or informative tool. In the case of Durumu, I gave him a memory score around 17, but realistically, his raid finder page has 28 different key terms with descriptions.