Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Different Dungeon Types in MMOs

Dungeons have been the backbone of fantasy video games since the first nerd used Basic to digitize his favorite D&D campaign. They provide the most interesting experiences and tend to be the best designed portions of any game. The emphasis on dungeon encounters has spread from our console games and become a strong tradition in the modern MMO. While dungeons are more commonly referred to as instances nowadays the basic experience first dreamt up by the early D&D pioneers remains the same.

In fact its eerie how little change has occurred to the dungeon experience during its translation from early video game to present day online game. Dungeons still tend to have an overall theme, a couple of mini bosses, and then a final bad guy with the best loot. Typically the only variations we see are those caused by other players in the game. Sometimes they are nice and help recover from a bad pull and other times they cause more problems then the actual mobs.

Its because of this that we've moved away from a single shared dungeon setup and now are in the age of the instance. Multiple copies of every dungeon exist for each group of players who wish to explore them. While this has made loot quicker to get and kept some of the vicious competition in check, it hasn't done much to foster the community building that happened before instances. Still there are some new ideas out there that make the best of both worlds and we might see some shifts in dungeon design in this new batch of MMOs.

Types of Dungeons in MMOs

Shared Dungeons
This is the old school style of dungeon which were common around the days of early Everquest. These dungeons were huge and open to as many players who wanted to enter. They were unusual from the standard video game model since the number of bosses was high to provide content for more then a few groups. This method of course only works in PvE games where opposing faction members don't exist. A shared dungeon is hard enough to run with griefers who can't attack you and would be impossible if they could.

Private Dungeons (Instances)
The answer to shared dungeons became the private instance which allowed groups to work through content at their own pace without other player intervention. I think they became a little too popular with developers though since they required less work to create. It did revolutionized dungeon design in MMOs though and allowed much better polished experiences to be created. As a side effect though these dungeons tend to be a bit more linear even when expanded into large raid sizes.

Combination Dungeons
A neat idea that shows up in Everquest 2 and a little bit in World of Warcraft is to have the entrance portion of the dungeon shared so that you get a little bit of the community building effect. The bosses are mostly in the private instance portion of the dungeon but you get players congregating outside which makes forming groups much easier. Sometimes developers will even sprinkle the shared portion of the dungeon with rare mobs or quest objectives to help out with group formation. In World of Warcraft this eventually led to the winged dungeon design which proved so popular in the Burning Crusade.

Public Dungeons
I've heard of another interesting idea which Age of Conan is supposedly trying out in some of their dungeon designs. Basically the idea is to a create a bigger and less linear dungeon then what has become standard with private instances. Then use the power to instance very sparingly based on the player population in the dungeon. This way you could design a dungeon that could allow more interaction between players but not force everyone to be fighting tooth and nail for boss spawns. The only problem is how this plays out on PvP servers but it could easily be nipped in the bud by disabling it in the dungeon environments. I've always hated keeping track of the different instance versions in City of Heroes/Tabula Rasa but I could put up with it in this case.


Tipa said...

Your "Public Dungeon" idea was to be implemented in Vanguard, but I don't know if they ever got to it.

Rochmoninoff said...

Love your blog, I check it daily.

Regarding the OP:
I consider the AV battleground in WoW to be a "shared dungeon" with and opposing faction trying to trip you up and keep you from killing the "final boss".

No drops (except honor & tokens) but still this seems to be a special case.

The fact that Bliz has been struggling for years to keep this BG interesting and somewhat ballanced shows how tricky this is to bring off and (I guess) why other developers haven't experimented with this dungeon style.

Scott said...

Never knew these had names, I always called the group-only areas in Vanguard "public dungeons" but I suppose they'd be considered "shared dungeons" on this list.

But yes, the Ancient Port Warehouse was supposed to be designed to be big enough to hold five guilds (I read that to mean five raid groups) potentially without them running into each other. I think they did end up adding some type of pseudo-instancing tech into APW though.

How about the contested area dungeons? I've heard DAOC had one, and LOTRO added one to its PvP zone awhile back where one team has to control at least three points to enter the raid, but while they're in there the other team could take control of the points then enter the raid and chase down the first team, PvE and PvP at once.

Anonymous said...

As the above poster mentioned, Dark Age of Camelot has "Darkness Falls" which is a contested dungeon. Only one realm (of the 3 in DAoC) could gain access to Darkness Falls at any given time by conquering the most keeps. If you were inside, however, when another realm gained access you had to be extremely careful because enemy PC's could swarm in at any minute!

Relmstein said...

Yes, I've heard about the contested dungeons that DAOC pioneered It's an interesting way of encouraging people who want to experience a new PvE encounter to participate in the PvP fighting. I believe Warhammer will use a similar method to spawn an instance every time a major city is sacked.

In general contested dungeons are just normal private instances and the PvP objective is like an attunement or key to enter. In fact I think Warhammer's version is only going to spawn one copy so that the boss of each city can only be killed once for every time the city is sacked.