Sunday, September 4, 2011

Randomized Dungeons

Would randomized dungeons improve how long content would last with the playerbase?

This question occurred to me while playing a bit of Torchlight recently, and I began to wonder why very few online games have taken the route of using randomized dungeons, or at least one randomized dungeon. Spiral Knights, the F2P game you can get off Steam now, is one of these examples. I'm finding few reasons to justify not implementing their kind of dungeon making in some way.

Firstly, in Spiral Knights a dungeon is created by collecting gems from other dungeons and putting them into a machine. The specifics of the dungeon are then derived from the kinds that are put in. For example, the environment and enemy types, as well as bosses. Other than that, the floors are randomized with groups of enemies as well as rudimentary puzzles that require teamwork.

Rewards would be random, bosses could be created solely for random style dungeons or perhaps generated from a list of current bosses in other dungeons. Justifying it within most games wouldn't be difficult either, as most titles could simply use a variation of "A wizard did it."

So we have our base idea. Which brings us back to our question: Would it increase the length of time content would last among the playerbase?

The "Yes" side has a good number of points for it already. Random dungeons would require a bit more attention than normal ones, as you couldn't reliably predict the next encounter or puzzle. Randomized loot means there is potential to find an upgrade for everyone, unless you outgear the content of course. The track record of success with randomized dungeons is fairly high already, and the random nature ensures a good level of re-playability at least.

However, it does strike some points against it in modern MMORPG formulas. The fact that loot is random scores against it, as if you are, say, a Holy Paladin style with a very specific type of armor, you may be waiting a long time for something of yours to drop. It's generic nature would be a turn-off in some cases as well, as normal dungeons can sustain a story and have far more interesting encounters due to their static nature. And even though boss encounters could be randomized, once you see which boss you get the fight will still be the same, unless randomized boss tactics are put in place, which have a whole slew of problems to go with them.

The idea has potential to increase the life span of a level content, yes, but putting such a thing into practice is a different story. Would it be worth the time spent to create such a system in, say, WoW or SWTOR? Would it actually increase re-playability by any significant amount? I'd love to hear other opinions on this.


  1. Random dungeons only work if the gameplay is fun enough to stand on its own. Killing hordes of enemies in Diablo 2 is fun, and where that occurs is mostly irrelevant. You hunt down every enemy because killing them is fun, and each enemy has a chance to drop an amazing item.

    I do not believe that randomly generated dungeons would work in, say, WoW. There are chances epic items can drop from average trash mobs, sure, but the guaranteed good items drop from bosses. And even if WoW changed to where bosses were reduced in importance (e.g. better to clear out entire dungeons than just go for the boss), I don't think that the underlying holy trinity/group gameplay is fun enough to stand on its own. At least, when repeated thousands of times.

  2. I agree with Azuriel in that Random dungeons only work if the gameplay is fun enough to stand on its own..

    But I'd go further and say that the randomness itself has to be interesting randomness. I do not consider a complicated random 3D maze with no mini-map interesting, merely frustrating and painful. Unfortunately, other people might love such a thing so interesting is rather subjective.

    I do consider a wide variety of different possible mini-boss encounters, "puzzle" rooms, and traps interesting -- though if the difficulty level is too high, then it becomes frustrating for me. So randomness with a choice of difficulty would be my preference.

    The concerns both of you have with item drops are manageable. If you want guaranteed specific items drops from bosses, that can be implemented even if the bosses themselves are randomized. Or you could offer some sort of dungeon currency, with the boss dropping a much larger portion of that currency than trash mobs.

  3. @ Azuriel - I agree with you that the gameplay has to stand on its own, but I don't see how a theme park model wouldn't fit into that. The entire game is combat, and structures that contribute to combat, so therefore the combat must be entertaining in some way on its own. Maybe not the trinity in particular, but say we make it more like the AoE fests of WOTLK. Less focus on tank-healer-DPs and more on just tearing stuff up.

    And in response to both of you, I agree that there would have to be a focus on bosses above trash mobs. Bosses would have to drop the best loot, if only because systems that use the "random loot from every mob" model have a much, much higher gear turnover rate than traditional mmorpgs.

    @ John - Though the currency system is an interesting idea, and there could be a way to implement that, it would essentially put a time limit on how long the dungeon would be relevant to players. Find out exactly how much each boss or trash mob drops, then figure out how long it would take you to attain all the gear from the vendor. That time limit is when the dungeon will start losing popularity. Not everyone min-maxes like that, but it's one of my criticisms of the dungeon currency system.

    Simple, yet fun puzzles and traps as well as randomized bosses from a list of bosses (possibly with a static final boss) I think would work best. I'm actually surprised mini-events are not put into dungeons more often, really.

  4. You're assuming that dungeon currency can only be used at a vendor specific to that dungeon. I wasn't suggesting the current model, where the apple dungeon drops apples that can only be used at the apple vendor to buy apple gear. Heck, the time limit problem you mention exists today even without such currency -- once people have farmed an instance for all the gear it drops, people lose interest.

    I was thinking something more along the lines of the skirmish currency in lotro. Skirmishes can drop many different types of marks -- some common to all skirmishes, some common to specific groups of skirmishes.

    The skirmish vendors are not tied to specific skirmishes, but the goods sold at those vendors might require marks of more than one type. So even in future expansions, one could be required to go back and run old skirmishes to obtain (some) of the currency needed for a brand new vendor item.