(Shorter post from PvD about this topic which is very good and spelled correctly - I am a Wall of Text writer. If you have a problem with that, you have been warned - comments complaining about it are rather silly. My follow-up posts on this topic can be found here, where I talk at even greater length about the 3D environment problem, and here where I tell you all to suck it up, I spelled it wrong AND YES I KNOW IT BY NOW ZOMG)
Occulus has obviously provided some serious development problems for Blizzard. Actually, that would be an understatement.
In order to fully understand why, we have to move further back – to the beginning of the WotLK xp.
When Wrath of the Lich King came out, we were all introduced to the concept of vehicle mechanic fights. I remember very distinctly when this was a major new feature coming in Wrath (along with those dance studios and hair salons…). It sounded so awesome in theory, didn't it? Let's list off a few things that utilized this vehicle mechanic:
- Multi-rider mounts
- Quests requiring you to mount
- The daily quest in Coldarra
- Single person mounts (Flying Carpet)
- Raids (Eye of Eternity, Ulduar)
- Dungeons (Occulus)
Despite the obvious amount of development and promotional effort poured into this vehicle mechanic, it may have been the largest overwhelming failure of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack. That isn't to say that everyone hates them, or that they weren't a cool idea, or even that they don't have some really positive effects on gameplay. Look, I love my multi-rider mount. I especially like drowning my allies in the Stratholme moat. This very evening, in fact, I was almost successful in making Fuubaar vomit all over herself while riding with me through Pit of Saron. If success were measured in liters of projectile, then maybe we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
The fundamental problem with vehicle mechanic fights, aside from the initial glitchiness, is that in order to accomplish your objective, it requires you to quickly learn the abilities of something other than what you have spent so much time and effort researching – your own character abilities. It doesn't matter if you've put hours into RAWR-crafting, or reading "How To Heal" blog posts, or scoured through your spec to maximize your talented potential – none of this has any bearing on vehicle mechanics. You have a few moments, at most, to familiarize yourself with the abilities of your vehicle, and then you have to get down to business. At best, you gear item level will boost the health or armor or whatever of your vehicle, but otherwise, nothing that makes your character special, or had any bearing on why you chose to put so much effort into leveling, developing, and improving it and its role, has any bearing on your abilities or success in a vehicle fight.
The problems with these vehicle fights, aside from the largest reason explained above, can be fairly easily listed.
- Problems with add-ons. I should note that I do not think it is Blizzard's responsibility to be overly concerned about whether or not add-ons have difficulties with game mechanics. Allowing add-ons is a bonus that Blizzard has wisely implemented into World of Warcraft, but I don't think they should have to develop gameplay with an eye to making it easy for add-ons to work with everything.
- Problems with Macros. In my opinion, macros are a bit different. This is an in-game user interface issue that Blizzard has developed. I am developmentally challenged when it comes to flying – the reason I have an issue in EoE and Occulus is more related to the fact that I can't fly worth a damn. I have to set myself to follow someone. There is a significant delay in how soon the /follow function will work properly when players are mounted, and it irritates the hell out of me.
- Interface familiarity. If you use the default interface, you may notice that in certain fights, when you mount up on your vehicle, your bars change. This has presented countless difficulties for people who put macro buttons on their bars.
For all three of those problems, you could easily argue that people are just stupid, and there are easy fixes to all those issues if the player is just somewhat able to comprehend how to troubleshoot interface issues. Okay, fair enough. But, as an interface-moron, let me ask you this – would you rather see a fight dumbed down and nerfed to the ground, with gratuitous rewards given out in a desperate plea to bribe players into sticking around long enough to wipe through it, or would you rather see changes to the mechanic interface itself in order to make it easier for the average non-troubleshooting player?
Since I presented that question in such an obviously unbiased way, I'm sure you know what I think. I don't begrudge you if you think there is nothing wrong with the interface. I can't say this with complete certainty, since many of my issues may have been related to add-ons I've swapped in and out, but I do think Blizzard made some improvements to the interface in an effort to improve the vehicle mechanic and other issues. Unfortunately, once an impression has been left on us Luddites, we're hesitant to go look like an interface-induced moron all over again to see if Blizzard's changes really improved usability. It wouldn't really matter anyway, because the overwhelming problem of utilizing vehicle abilities within moments of gaining them is still the largest underlying issue.
The Vehicle Raids
When the only raiding content available consisted of Naxxramas and Eye of Eternity, many may not have noticed that there was a problem with these types of fights. EoE was the highest end content available, and so if you wanted the best gear possible, your only choice was to struggle through the mechanic fight. And, to be fair, Blizzard also had the foresight to recognize the inherent problem with this mechanic, and they offered a daily quest that awarded Wyrmest Accord rep that introduced you and familiarized you with the abilities you would have in Eye of Eternity. This was a brilliant idea.
Unfortunately, people hating that daily just as much as, if not more than, the EoE raid itself. Blizzard picked up on this, and when they implemented the next set of dailies intended to introduce us to vehicle abilities, they took it to a much grander scale. And thus we were presented with the Argent Tournament dailies. The benefits of taking the time to learn how to joust (which was exceedingly frustrating for a vast majority of people due in no small part to the clunkiness of the mechanic) were much larger. No longer were you simply given a small sack of gold and a pittance of rep with one faction. You had choices, and tokens, and pets and mounts and achievements.
Yet, in terms of progression in an instance or a raid, you were NOT required to do these dailies. If you boil it all down, their primary function was to teach you the jousting vehicle abilities. It seems so obvious that I'm left wondering… was there originally intended to be a jousting sequence in the ToC raid? Was this idea scrapped when Blizzard recognized that despite their efforts, players still hated jousting? Was EoE such an abysmal failure that developers read between the chat logs and accepted the fact that players wanted to play their actual characters and not a fancy mount?
In the original plan for the ToC Raid, were we expected to joust the faction champions before the famous PvPesque fight?
I realize I'm backtracking a bit, but let's touch upon Ulduar. Once Ulduar became available, players stopped running EoE en masse. Instead, they jumped into the Flame Leviathan fight.
I hate this fight. It just seems like a massive cluster of pointless button clicking – at least up until you get to Flame Levi. I like to heal in a raid. I didn't level to 80 to play a siege engine. I struggle through the fight just to get it over and done with so that we can move on to a more interesting fights that actually present an individual challenge for me that I enjoy – healing. In fact, part of the reason why I don't run Ulduar anymore if I can get away with it is simply because in order to get to the fun stuff, you have to waste time on Flame Levi.
On the opposing side, many people would form 25 man raids whose entire purpose was to finish off Flame Leviathan, loot, and then disperse. If you know the abilities of your chosen vehicle, the FL fight is a piece of cake. Even I myself don't find the fight hard per se, I just find it boring and a waste of my abilities.
The ease of these fights if you DO know the abilities is directly related to the balancing effort that Blizzard had to use in order to make this mechanic functional. The vehicle mechanic quests you did while leveling were usually actually very easy – if you knew the vehicle abilities. Their difficulty was reduced in order to offset the challenge of new abilities. So, if you learn new spells and how to use them properly very quickly, these fights are quick and easy. If you do not learn new abilities that easily, they may be a nightmare.
If you are leveling your fifth alt through Northrend, the vehicle fights may even be ideal – you know the abilities from having done them so many times, and they are, therefore, especially easy for you.
The Great Occulus/LFG Debacle
Where am I going with all this? Aside from the fact that even Larisa at Pink Pigtail Inn voted Eye of Eternity as least successful raid instance of 2009 with multitudes of people agreeing with her choice, let's take a look at an incredibly sad (in my mind anyway) Blue Post from this evening.
To encourage players not to shy away from the many invigorating adventures to be had in The Occulus, we have applied a change to enhance the rewards players are provided when selected for this dungeon via the Random Heroic option in the Dungeon Finder. Once Ley-Guardian Eregos is defeated, one loot bag per character will be provided in his chest in addition to the current rewards. Each loot bag will offer players rare gems, two additional Emblems of Triumph, and a chance of being rewarded the Reins of the Blue Drake.
My first reaction to this was sheer horror. Really? Are they so desperate that they have to go beyond the limits of traditional bribery in order to get people to run this instance? And then it occurred to me… yes they do. And I don't know if there is any better way to handle it without completely removing the vehicle mechanic fight from Occulus and redeveloping the instance – which is not realistic at all at this point in time.
The problem was there before the LFG tool. People hated Occulus. Of course there were people who loved it, but overall, it was easily the most dreaded and detested instance. Back when we had daily heroics, the groans were heard 'round the trade chat if that was the choice of the day. Most people would simply skip it. Before the LFG change, it was not an overbearing negative consequence to the average player if most people didn't like Occulus.
But now, with the LFG tool, it's an even bigger mess. I have only had Occulus once as my random heroic, but my fiancé, who has been running heroics much more than myself, has been so unlucky as to get it multitudes of times. And 95% of the time, as soon as all five strangers land on the first walk in Occulus, at least one person drops group, and the remaining members are forced to re-queue in an effort to find a replacement and not walk away with a debuff that will prohibit them from queuing for their random heroic for another 15 minutes. If the person who drops is a tank, or perhaps even a healer, you may just spend the entirety of that 15 minute debuff searching for a replacement.
In Blizzard's defense, they are a lot more aware of problems in the game than we often them credit for. They knew Occulus had been, for all intents and purposes, abandoned before they released 3.3. They nerfed it in what I can only imagine was preparation for what they perceived as an inevitable Occulus/LFG debacle. Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough. Some players get it into their head that they hate an instance, and no amount of nerfing or free gifts will change their minds. First impressions and overall attitude towards a game mechanic are very influential.
The one time I did get Occulus as my random heroic, I really did try. I did. I died 6 times trying (most of those in an attempt to get back to where my party stood impatiently waiting for my return), but I gave it my all. I looked like a complete fool. I made an ass out of myself in front of, not only strangers, but several guildmates. I felt pretty humiliated, to be honest, and vowed that the 15 minutes of LFG debuff were completely worth the 2 hours of agonizing mortification I had just endured. The pugged members of my group dropped out as soon as the boss went down and they got their badges. That's right, they were so eager to escape my fail aura that they left without even waiting to see how the loot rolls came out.
What, doesn't everyone fall off the side of the entry walkway twice when running back in? Am I really the only person left in Azeroth who gets lost flying around a giant pillar, and dismounts 1 foot from the edge of a platform, only to fall into oblivion and death? I could do an entire series on humiliating ways to die in Occulus. Those of us who are incapable of doing Occulus well are too embarrassed to stick around in a group with those of you who have no problem. You should be thanking us. BUT AT LEAST I KNEW MY DRAKE ABILITIES.
Keep the Vehicle a Vehicle
Despite all the vehicle mechanic complaints, let's talk about one of its uses that has actually been successful. The vehicle mount… mount.
My flying carpet brings all the boys to the yard. When I first crafted it, actually, it was very glitchy, and there were a lot of serious problems. However, it only took one patch for Blizzard to correct the most egregious of these issues, so I had no further complaints. I was too busy soaring through Northrend in my magicy magicness. I refused to even close my eyes.
The three-person mount is even more successful. Aside from just being blatantly fun and allowing players to interact with one another in ways previously unavailable (no matter how I tried, I just was not capable of inducing Fuubaar vomit pre-Mammoth), it also had lots of practical uses. Go back to the old world and drive your low level guild-mates through the Wetlands!
And how about that Chopper? Aside from being a very effective gold sink, it also revitalized Engineering. Gold sinks are necessary, and fun crafted items are also necessary. Choppers are NOT necessary, but they sure are a fun addition to the game.
So I can't call the vehicle mechanic a complete and utter failure. It has certainly been an interesting device, and has added a certain… something to the game. But, by far, its most successful and loved manifestation has been when it was simply for fun – when it isn't a game-breaker. When it isn't necessary for further progression in a raid or any other instance, it is adored by players.
The bag of "thanks for not dropping group and screwing over the other Puggers" goodies is nothing more than a last ditch, desperate effort on behalf of Blizzard in an attempt to salvage a miserable failure of an instance. There, I said it. I feel bad saying it, and therefore tried to justify it with 3 pages of explanation.
I salute Blizzard for their undying effort in trying so hard to make this much anticipated mechanic work. You can't say they didn't try. I can't even imagine the amount of development manpower they invested in this integrally flawed mechanic. Hey, I tried to major in Latin for 4 years guys. I know all about pursuing lost causes. To soften the blow, look at it this way. The reason so many of us dislike the vehicle?
We love our characters a hell of a lot more.