Just for fun, I’m going to ramble on about scaling this morning.
Call it scaling, sliding, normalizing, whatever you’d like. What I’m going to talk about is increasing or decreasing the effective power of an opponent or a player to make a fight ‘fair’.
The first time I ran into scaling was in City of Heroes. They had a sidekick system that incorporated scaling. The idea was, you might be a long term customer with a powerful character, and a friend decides the game sounds fun and they want to come in and give it a try. The problem? Your friend wants to get in and start playing with you right away, but they’re level 10 and you’re 50. What to do?
The sidekick system in City of Heroes let you group with your low level friend, and the low level friend would have their effective power levels raised to match yours. They wouldn’t gain any new abilities, so they would have far fewer tools in their toolbox, but what they had would at least be effective, and their health and armor would let them be a viable teammate instead of a boy hostage.
So, that’s an example of a system where the power of the character would scale to match the content you were running.
Now, I’ve been puttering around in the new free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, which is still in beta but is pretty awesome.
Why is it awesome?
Unlike almost every other free to play game I’ve tried, Neverwinter hasn’t been shoving their cash store in my face every time I turn around. Instead, I’m having fun playing the game, and the store is enticing me to buy neat stuff to enhance my play. Not, you know, stuff to buy just so I can have any kind of playtime at all.
In Neverwinter, there are scenarios, dungeons, instances, whatever you’d like to call them. There are those designed by the game company, and there are also player-created instances in what is called ‘The Foundry’, which are also, yes, free to play. And if you so desire, you can create your own scenarios too.
The interesting bit here is that the instances are not gated by level. The monsters and treasure within the instance will scale based on the level of the player that enters, so loot in chests will be level appropriate, and the opponents will also scale to match you. The difficulties come in the instance design. If someone stacks a bunch of bad guys in a small room with no place to maneuver, well, it’s going to be a hell of a challenge. The design of the instance determines the difficulty, and even how many people are needed to play in it, rather than the level of the characters or villains.
So, an example of a system where the character stays the same, and the content of an instance scales to provide an ‘appropriate’ challenge.
Where I’m going with this is simple.
What would it take to add scaling for the old content in World of Warcraft?
I’ll talk about why I think it would be a good thing later, for now let’s just talk about what would have to be done to implement something.
In my opinion, the highest hurdle would be the scaling technology itself. No sense talking about it if it would cost three years of serious programmer time to get something into beta.
Surprise! In World of Warcraft, most of the technology needed has already been implemented.
Blizzard is using scaling in the game already, and seems to be following the ‘scale the player power to match the content’ concept.
The first piece we can see comes from Heirloom items. The tech is in place to be able to scale the ilevel of gear up OR DOWN based on the level of the player.
You get an Heirloom, whoever you mail it to can equip it, and it will scale up or down, no problems. Right now, it scales based off of a character trigger – what is the level of the character equipping it?
In my opinion, it’s a short step to changing the trigger so iLevel scaling could change based on the recommended level of the dungeon or raid you were zoning into.
That brings us to the second piece which is already in the game, Challenge mode dungeons.
The Challenge mode dungeons are all level 90 dungeons that you cannot access until you’ve completed them on Heroic. They do not incorporate any character level scaling, but they do scale your equipped gear down to effective iLevel 463, except for the trinkets.
They also do other things upon entering them, such as deactivate Sha-touched gems and Tier bonuses. A complete list of what gets changed when you enter a Challenge mode 5 person dungeon can be found at Wowhead New’s awesome guide here.
The important bit here is that the tech is in place so that when you specifically queue for one of these scaled dungeons, and you zone in, your gear gets ‘normalized’ to an appropriate power level for the dungeon or raid you are doing.
So what puzzle pieces are we missing for the tech?
Only one thing, really. When you zone into a dungeon or raid, if there was a mechanism in place to detect your character level, and to scale your base character stats down to the ‘intended’ level of the content… well, that would cap the package, wouldn’t it?
With that one additional piece of tech, you could zone into, say, Ulduar 25 and as you zone in, your character base stats could be adjusted down to level 80, your gear iLevel could be scaled down to 232, your hit/expertise percentages against raid bosses would be maintained at whatever your previous level had been, and lo and behold you would now be able to do old content scaled to the appropriate ‘challenge’.
So, it’s a possibility. The tech is not that impossible to imagine.
Blizzard could, if they chose to, implement a new system where you could do old content through the LFD/LFR system, and when you zone in with the group your effective level and gear would be scaled to match the challenge.
If they chose to.
What is the one big reason why they might like to implement this?
To expand on options in the Looking for Group tool for dungeons and raids when leveling.
For a big bonus, to give us more options for randoms when level capped and seeking fresh possibilities for weekly Valor Points.
If you could queue for ANY dungeon or raid content, where you can queue for it now instead of when you finally ding 90, where you would have to use your class abilities to some extent rather than outgearing and facerolling it, and IF you received Justice Points, Valor Points and experience points for doing it just like the current leveling dungeons… wouldn’t that expand the leveling freshness a bit?
Think about it. You wouldn’t just be matchmaking with people who are within the same three levels as you when trying to do Sunken Temple. You’d be queuing with anyone your level and above who’d like to get a run in, and everyone in the group regardless of level is going to have their effective power scaled down to put you all on the same playing field for that run… except for how many buttons are on your bar.
Why would you expect to get Justice, Valor or experience for such a run? Well, the whole point would be to make the content a reasonable ‘at level’ challenge, and suitable for LFR/LFD queuing. It would seem reasonable to expect to get some XP from the kills, some JP for the bosses and maybe a 15 or 30 Valor Point random queuing quest reward.
But there is one last big hurdle to it, and the reason why this isn’t an “I think they will do this” and more of an “I wonder how they would do that”.
What to do about loot?
Right now, when you do randoms leveling up you get a loot bag on completion of the run, with some random blue quality gear of the appropriate level for the dungeon you ran. The iLevel of the gear is based on the level of the dungeon, not your level. It doesn’t matter much because once you level past that dungeon, you can’t queue for it anymore.
What if they added loot bags to the random LFR/LFD system for old raids and dungeons? Bags with a piece of loot based on your actual character level instead of the level of the dungeon or your effective character level? The gear is already there, a wide range exists from those dungeon bags. Tie the bag quality into your level when you queued rather than the level of the dungeon, and you would get a level appropriate something for doing older content.
But is that enough incentive to get someone going through an entire raid? Some of those would take megatime.
But there is something else already implemented in a similar context that could be expanded into older content in LFR/LFD.
Achievements, Titles, Pets, Mounts and fancy transmoggable armor sets.
They have already implemented this in the Challenge mode dungeons, so the model is there.
If there were special achievements for doing older scaled content through the Raid/Dungeon finder tool, if loot was handled the way it is in LFR right now so you’re not competing with the other players, if there were pets that could drop on bosses, mounts to earn for completing raids or achievements, gear pieces that were specially colored old Tier or Dungeon sets…
Yeah. I think that just might be a complete package.
You could even implement a class-specific easter-egg hunt.
If you played in Vanilla WoW, do you remember the Sunken Temple quest lines?
Each character class had a quest you could get in Ungoro Crater, that led you to Sunken Temple, and as a reward gave you something really useful for your class.
What if a quest chain were added in the game, that asked you to visit all of these places through the Scaled Content LFD and collect items from them? Gather all the items, turn them in and get something appropriate for your class.
It wouldn’t have to be anything big or crazy, but it would be fun to have that class quest for a tasty item or RP flair. Mages could go collect shards of energy cast off from some of the big battles, charging a special Mana Gem. Warlocks could collect Shards of teh Souls of powerful bosses they defeat along the way. Rogues could pick pocket trinkets from bosses in various locations that had… personal meaning for the person sending you out to get them back. You get the idea.
I’m just musing aloud here, I’m not trying to prophecy or suggest something, and I don’t believe it WILL happen… but it could happen, and it would be fun.
The most interesting thing about this to me, is that by using the LFD/LFR tool as the gateway to run these, it allows Blizzard to leave all of the existing content untouched. You could still zone in and solo the old runs, get the chance at the original loot lists, work on original achievements and Legendary questlines, drops for the Raiding with Leashes pets, all of it.
The only time you would be zoning in to old content that scaled for an appropriate challenge would be when you intentionally sought one out on the LFD/LFR tool.
And finally, and to me the most fascinating part of the whole thing… by scaling the players to the content, you leave in place the option for Blizzard to tweak up or down the effective iLevel of the players. If a particular dungeon or raid became a severe chokepoint, then they could tweak the effective scaling of ilevel up or down as they felt appropriate.
I dunno. Maybe there is some glaring flaw I’m missing, but the whole thing seems technically feasible, it would benefit the majority of players in the game right now by adding more options, you could return to having a challenge in old content without it necessarily being a brutal slog, it would not require the creation of new zones or raids or art assets, except for mounts or Tier recoloring (or new gear sets, if they felt like it), and it would continue to be relevant regardless of what future level caps may climb to become.
So, what do you think? Does any of that make sense? Would it be fun? Is it a horrible idea? What do you think, my friends?
Oh, and happy Wednesday.