Exploits or Creativity in Moria?

I just reached level 60 in Lord of the Rings Online, and this happens to be my first max-level character in a Diku-style MMO.  I was really excited to gearshift to the Mines of Moria endgame, which currently consists of a few dungeons, a few epic quests, and the Watcher in the Water.  My first two endgame experiences really threw me for a loop.  Were we playing as intended?

The first experience was Volume 2, Book 5, Chapter 5 – Drums in the Deep.  The Chapter has three instances, and the most difficult is by far the Battle of the Deep-way.  The Battle of the Deep-way is an instance in which six heroes must defend a dirt hole with some elite dwarves against waves of orcs, trolls, wolves, and bugs.  The challenging part is managing the waves.  The waves come at random times (usually not overlapping) and have random enemy compositions.  One orc wave may have some easy wolf handlers and their pets, and the next wave may have two trolls.

The trick comes in that by stun-locking a certain mob in each wave, players can stall that side from ever respawning until the sub-boss and boss mobs come.  It does take a group member to babysit the mob, and that is the tradeoff.  The group loses damage and capabilities elsewhere to ensure that one side has no respawns.  Is this playing as intended?  I am not sure.  Only burglars and loremasters are capable of pulling the feat off, and this gives groups reasons to pick them up for this difficult instance.  If it was “fixed” that demand would plummet in order to get more DPS-type classes.

After we beat Deep-way with the trick we headed to the Forges, an endgame instance that contains the endgame chestpiece.  To beat hard mode Forges as intended the players have to beat the final dungeon boss within about a half-hour of beating the first boss.  Here’s the interesting thing: if the fellowship resets the first boss by running past it (towards the second, third, and final bosses) the timer never starts, and the fellowship then has infinite time to beat hard mode.  Now, I would see this as more of an exploit than Deep-way because there is no timer, but players have to guess at the exact challenge the developers had intended.  With careful walking, the group can completely ignore the second boss.  By jumping off and committing suicide at the bottom, while a minstrel or loremaster (or rune-keeper?) runs the weird way to the bottom to resurrect everybody, thereby completing ignoring the majority of the content between the first boss and last boss.  The whole run becomes somewhat silly.

This is what happens, I think, when Turbine created hard mode in order get the armor necessary to beat the boss of Mines of Moria – the Watcher in the Water.  The challenge is too narrow, not necessarily hard.  When this happens players get creative, and the border between creativity and exploitation gets pretty blurry.

–Ravious
If I had some duct tape, I could fix that.

19 thoughts on “Exploits or Creativity in Moria?”

  1. Yar… it seems the intentions were very good. Instead of just throwing more Boss Hitpoints at the players and calling it difficulty they decided “hey, do this special thing and you get a special reward.”

    But in practice, the inherent limits of computer programming may well have just made this a pandora’s box of programmers vs. users where either the nonsensical exploits are deemed “working as intended” or the devs are doomed (I fear) to start a never ending goose chase squashing one bug and loophole after another indefinitely (while likely having to use means that hamper even intended gameplay).

  2. Another explanation, just for the sake of argument: If your players are skipping content, that content either sucks or has become irrelevant to their goals.

    “Sucks” of course is subjective. It might not suck at all, but what matters is that it sucks to the players skipping it. If a large majority of your players are skipping this content, it ultimately means this content is irrelevant no matter how much you might hate this fact as a dev. At that point you basically have two choices:

    – Ignore them and redesign the content in order to force them hard to go through it.

    – Listen to them, or find out what the problem is otherwise, and design future content to avoid this particular problem.

    Of course if players are not doing current content you can tweak it until they do. That’s always an option. But the questions at that point are “Where was your testing?” and “Why the hell didn’t you do it from the get go?”. These assumes the goal of a dev is to have their games played by people and not simply be $50M exercises in design.

    I don’t see this particular issue as an “exploits or creativity” one, because I think it’s neither. This is devs underestimating the amount of complication their players are willing to be put through, and forgetting for a moment that players (as a large group) always tend to follow the path of least resistance and behave more or less like a liquid.

    When Blizzard removed all that maremagnum of convoluted attunements to access their content, they were not fixing an exploit. They looked at their own numbers and realized only a fraction of their players were willing to put up with that. Players were not being creative or exploiting anything. They were giving up. It was an un-fun system (necessary as it might have been, in the opinion of some, which is a valid point. not one I necessarily subscribe to myself).

    Sometimes the players are the problem. Sometimes the content is.

  3. Just to make sure we are all on the same page: LOTRO hard mode requires players to skip content. It’s not the same as just going through the dungeon.

    So for the Forges players are only skipping content because they are on a timer, and like you said for the path of least resistance, the race to the bottom is to fight as little as possible. IOW, hard mode forges was designed to make players go the path of least resistance.

  4. Wait…you are discussing endgame and LOTRO..

    Everyone knows the best part of the game is the journey (according to all LOTRO fanbois)

    Of course that is at least 98% of all MMO’s

  5. Another clear example that just popped up: When Blizzard introduced the 45-minute Baron runs in Stratholme.

    It was initially designed as a force/skill challenge (I’m talking about doing it at the appropriate level at the time. coming back with your level 80 is just doing it for the lulz). It required a coordinated, skillful and well-geared group.

    Now I’m pretty sure Blizzard’s intention was to add that extra layer of timed challenge in order to make players “get better” at all the trash/miniboss fights in Stratholme all the way to the Baron. But in reality, what ended up happening?

    The path of least resistance was quickly identified. The very design of Stratholme favored one optimal path to do this in under 45 minutes, and one only. Then suddenly force/skill doesn’t matter as much. You still have to fight, of course, but the optimal path is not optimal because it’s the ideal test of force/skill. To the contrary, it’s optimal because it’s the path that skips the most fights; therefore less chances to test your force/skill combination.

    Players in a way outsmarted Blizzard because by finding that path of least resistance they trivialized and systematized the whole thing – it was just a matter of learning the sequence of pulls and keeping a steady pace. Rinse and repeat while force/skill goes out the window.

    You can underestimate your players in a lot of ways, and many times it pays off. However, one area in which you can’t afford to is to think that by default they won’t be able to find chinks in your armor of content. You’re not dealing with just “players”; your playerbase is a distributed computing system. A hive-mind that just by virtue of internal communication is trying to crack your content 24/7/365.

    Hence the existence of cockblocks as the ultimate flow control mechanism: When Blizzard opened AQ and made the original C’thun a cockblock it wasn’t accidental. It was the only way to ensure players could not, under any circumstance, find a way around it. It was impossible content by design.

    tl;dr : Never trust that your players won’t find a way. If it’s there, they will. And if it’s not there, they will route around it and keep going. Your content is solid, your players are liquid.

  6. Imagine this scenario:
    You have just won a used Ferrari (in a bet, a game of poker… whatever). To recieve the car you have to A.) take a very beautiful 2 day walk (giving the previous owner time to say goodbye and clean it up)… or B.) Take the bus and have fun driving the car much sooner.

    Are you gonna take the bus or behave “as intended”?

    I’ve been in groups that took a shortcut to get the reward and then afterwards completed the content as intended. In the end it’s up to the players to decide if they want to “exploit the gamesystems” or play as the designers probably intended it. If your fellowship wants to take the shortcut (and you feel its very wrong) you can always leave and start your own hard hardmode group. I know it IS possible… and fun :)

  7. “Just to make sure we are all on the same page: LOTRO hard mode requires players to skip content.”

    Which immediatly brings to mind the question (only half-joking): Why on earth design content that’s ‘meant’ to be skipped.

    Example, a dungeon with (x) number of encounters that must be done in 60 minutes or less or the final reward evaporates. That’s just -begging- to be skipped. If the devs designed that with the intention of the hopes that players would ‘buff it up’ and try and try and try until they got so good that they were able to chew through it linearly, encounter by encounter, ‘as intended’… well, they’re being naive. Specially if they designed the dungeon allowing for ways to skip it.

    I don’t subscribe much to the idea of “playing as intended”. I think the intent is ultimately determined by the players, not so much the devs. Devs can intent for a linear progression, but if players start skipping or conducting it non-linearly, yeah that’s wonderful, but also means the original design failed in its stated mission.

    In other words, from a pseudo-economic perspective, if players are skipping content it means they are unwilling to pay the “price” of the content. “Price” being usually in this case time and effort. The content doesn’t sell, so it’s not played. At that point devs have a choice: Artificially subject players to pay the price of content, or make the content cheaper so it’s consumed.

    I’m not arguing for making everything cheap and every boss a loot piñata. But there are many, many examples of devs initially “pricing” their content way beyond the means of their players, or assuming players were willing to pay such high prices. Toning down content or making more content more accessible is nothing but adjusting for the real purchasing power of the players.

  8. “Just to make sure we are all on the same page: LOTRO hard mode requires players to skip content.”

    No that’s not correct for all instances, killing the last boss withing 40 mins of the first is ‘correctly’ completing Hard Mode in the Forges. All bosses are still intended to be completed.

    Each HM instance has it’s own requirement; Grand Stairs – get to Nardur the shield within ten minutes of starting the first encounter (other bosses are skippable in this instance without the use of exploits), Deep Delvings – Fight the final boss without using the lights etc.

    The ‘complete hard mode to get the radiance armour grind’ has been poorly implemented. If you don’t have luxury of a static group of kin to run with, PUGing can be a dank, endless tunnel of heartbreak. I think I’ve done Forges nine times now with PUGs using both full clear and skip bosses method.

  9. Good discussion and fair points raised all around, and for the record, I was having a blast. I refuse to play in manners I am not having some fun in, and sadly that is why I probably will not be meeting the Watcher head on.

  10. I’m so happy I never saw these particular exploits in the Forges. I did see one that involved running past the second-to-last boss and then fighting the final boss in what I consider a dodgy way so you don’t get to do the whole fight. I hate those kinds of exploits and made my feelings very clearly known on the subject.

    It wouldn’t be so annoying if I don’t run the Forges on hard-mode while killing every mob and boss on the way EASILY within the 30 min timer. I love the boss fights in the Forges, they’re not just tank n spank like other instances, and even being stunned by trolls is funny these days.

    I hope they fix some of these exploits, I really do. I love the different challenges in the Moria instances. Of course, I am lucky enough to run in a mostly fixed group, but am hoping to show the kin the strategies we use, and we’re in no way a balanced group :-)

  11. @Ravious: There is another option. The next time they raise the level cap, you simply get a few more levels then go back and complete the instance. It probably won’t be a whole lot easier, but it should make Hard Mode a little more manageable.

    Either that, or Turbine will ‘revamp’ the instances to make them a little more manageable. I don’t know how likely that is, but it would certainly be helpful for those of us who, more often than not, have to resort to PUG’s.

  12. @Andrew: In Turbine’s latest dev chat (recently on X-fire) they said gave a hinted comment about looking at the old SoA dungeons for a revamp. I think Book 7 is going to tell us a lot about their direction after seeing how players are playing MoM.

  13. This makes me think about encounter-style design overall. Often it’s scripted and so there’s an implied “they meant us to do X to do Y and complete Z” in the old Nintendo-boss formula.

    Sometimes, you’re left wondering if you’ve done it correctly as intended. Shortcuts do feel exploitive, but some of the more clever approaches– well it always seems a shame when the encounters get patched so players will do it the “right” way.

    Maybe designers get a little too worked up over having their little traps solved in ways they didn’t expect. Sort of like a riddle which can be correctly answered multiple ways, but the riddle-maker insists on a specific expected answer.

    I’d like to see more content that can be approached from a wider variety of tactics. Or that solutions discovered by players get treated as acceptable, although clearly there should be limits on the more obvious workarounds.

  14. If I recall correctly, this same thing used to happen in the Rift. In those first 2 giant bosses that you have to kill to get past the gate, there were 3 waves. By stunlocking the female you could stop the waves.
    Turbine changed that pretty quick once they realized people were doing it, so you had to fight all the waves (but stunlocking the chick was still good since she healed or something).

    So I expect if people are doing that, Turbine will fix it pretty quickly. By pretty quickly I mean a month or so :)

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