YouTuber examines why vanilla World of Warcraft dungeons were so long

    
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For the old and grizzled World of Warcraft vets, dungeon delves were a longer process than they are nowadays. Why was that, exactly? A video from YouTuber Hiru takes a closer look at this question and provides some pretty succinct explanations.

In short, WoW dungeons were the size they were because the developers assumed everyone would only run them one time. The paradigm of MMORPG dungeon design at the time of WoW’s development was EverQuest, which featured non-instanced dungeons that were sized in such a way that they could accommodate everyone on the server. A number of the WoW devs were hardcore EQ1 players and so they decided to follow the example.

Of course, the problem with vanilla WoW dungeons being the size they were was it ran counter to the game’s gearing system, which pretty much required players to run these instances more than once to get the equipment they wanted. So, dungeons were shortened in the next expansion and onward both in response to this design decision and player feedback.

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Harry Koala
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Harry Koala

Most vanilla dungeons were designed to be run more than once. Some of them actively required it.

As others have pointed out, some of the bigger dungeons (e.g. Gnomergan, Ulduman, Maraudon, BRD) have a huge range of mob levels inside them, to the point that any group capable of killing the final boss is going to be getting 0 experience from the mobs at the start of the dungeon, loot 10-15 levels below where they are now, and find the whole thing utterly trivial. These dungeons have short cuts and side entrances so you can skip the trivial early stuff if you’ve got a certain distance in, and just go straight to the later targets.

Some, like Ulduman, have quests that e.g. require you to get a drop in the dungeon, spend a while running around in Ironforge (if you are alliance) and then go back in to the dungeon to complete the quest. Or multi-stage quest chains that require you to go out of the dungeon to talk to an NPC before going back in again (and the mobs at the start will have started respawning before you get back to that point unless you are very, very efficient).

Others have “collect 10 drops” quests where there is no way a party of 5 are all going to get all the drops in a single full clear of the instance.

The shorter dungeon paradigm ironically came from what was the biggest dungeon at one point: Scarlet Monastery. It was so big they broke it in to 4 parts (again with a 10 level range of mob levels in there). This created 4 almost mini-dungeons, which proved to be very popular with the player base because each one could be done in 30-60 minutes, so they were pretty convenient (although not so much for alliance who could spent 20 minutes just getting there, plus more time for being repeatedly killed on a PvP server). Dire Maul was the first dungeon produced after the positive feedback on SM rolled in, and obviously follows the same pattern. TBC also used the same idea, with each ‘dungeon’ typically having 3-4 separate smaller dungeons again.

Notably vanilla also had some open world dungeons like Everquest. such as Jinth Alor in the hinterlands, which is exactly like an instance without being instanced.

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Utakata

Chiming in late here….

…assuming they are well done, I don’t consider long dungeons or short dungeons a bad thing either way. So…

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Sarblade

Any video about Everquest dungeons? I missed those. Are they literally just open areas but enclosed by walls?

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

EQ’s original dungeons were a bit different: They were all still instanced off from the open world with a zone wall that mobs couldn’t cross, but there was just only one instance per server, so everyone was in the same one. I’m not sure the designers originally intended it to work out this way, but in practice, the length of the dungeon wasn’t really relevant, since you didn’t just move linearly through them from start to finish with a single group; there were usually many groups set up in logical player-designated camps, pulling nearby mobs back to the group. That created all the “camp check” memes as people would zone into a dungeon and ask about which spots were already taken and then ask to be put on lists to join those groups when they had openings.

The exception here would be some of the planes, which generally had a more linear path and could sometimes take a massive group days to clear, and some of the dungeons that started rolling into the game after launch in the expansions, which had more linear layouts and chronological mechanics like keying.

John Artemus
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John Artemus

I always thought dungeons were long back then because classes weren’t as powerful as they are now, and many gamers (like myself) weren’t as familiar with MMOs or how they functioned. I can remember going into Scarlet Monastery and having to plan out each trash pull with CC, positioning, etc.

It wasn’t until WOTLK that tanks could YOLO pull the entire instance. Even in TBC, you had to plan out pulls and use CC. Blizzard tried to go back to that in Cata, but it was met with serious player criticism. So they went back to YOLO dungeons. Which is what pretty much all Western MMOs have these days.

It’s one of the reasons why I like FFXIV so much. Though tanks can still largely pull everything, they have to know what they are doing, or they die. Which happens a lot in pugs. Dungeons still feel meaningful. And if it’s a low level dungeon, forget about it . You have two, MAYBE three abilities to use. Good luck. :p

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cursedseishi

I’m assuming this ‘one time only’ rule was for later dungeons?

Because far as my memory goes back, it wasn’t until closer to lvl 35-40 that dungeons started taking more than half an hour.
Ragefire Chasms you’ll do at least twice as a Paladin, 1 for regular quests and another for the lvl 20 Paladin Weapon questline. Same with Shadowfang Keep.

I used to solo Ragefire when I was lvl 22, mostly for fun but also to help people who couldn’t find a group. Even on my own, that was… ~20 minutes at the very most I think?

And Dead Mines, though I never tried to solo it at lower levels, feels like it went about much the same, though a little longer perhaps. Stockades too, especially the Stockades.

The only dungeon I could say this would be true of was Black Rock Depths which… yeah, was too big it felt like. I’d ran the place solo… I think around the end of Mists? And even maxed level and geared it took me a good hour or two to kill and finish up everything there.

And no, as some people have put it, I remember people talking about some of these dungeons being too obsessively big back during even Vanilla. If you want a sprawling and massive complex? Sure, go ahead… But locking it all into a single dungeon as BRD was? It’s an excruciating amount of padding and filler to get to any of the meatier bits. Imagine if Blizzard had, rather than that, decided to build it out into several smaller dungeons branching off the main instance? Imagine that they decided to focus and hone in on distinct areas and ensure each of those dungeons were satisfying and unique? And the reward for doing them all was a go at the throne room, where they could have had some real estate to do more with it than they did?

They’d have to treat it like a raid at that point with party-locked instances… But hey! 4-8 hours to fully complete BRD puts it in ‘Raid Investment’ territory anyhow.

It isn’t about people ‘not having weak attention spans’. It’s about respecting player time.

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Khrome

Wailing Caverns, Dire Maul, Maraudon (old version) – Those were *really* long dungeons at their intended levels, they were simply huge.

Sunken Temple was also seriously massive in its original form (at least compared to the one-room modern version), and quite easy to get lost in.

Quite a lot of others also had siderooms and optional bosses which were easily missed. A lot of vanilla dungeons were almost an order of magnitude larger than anything that came after (though BRD was the king of huge dungeons of course).

The ones i mentioned are an absolute pain to get going in classic. If you’re not playing with friends, count on spending the better half of a saturday trying to find a) a party and b) a party which knows where to go :P

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cursedseishi

Yeah, like I said most dungeons were honestly quick to run until you hit that 35-40 spot, then they started to go longer and longer. Wailing Caverns COULD be a long slog, but after a few runs pre-Cata I could clear it in about 20-30 minutes after learning where things are and not getting lost in it, even at the intended level.

Dire Maul, Sunken Temple, and Maraudon are all in that 40+ spot I mentioned, and especially with the dungeons in the 50+ range, they got longer and longer.

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Sorenthaz

Blackrock Depths was obviously the most notorious one because they essentially created a “choose your own adventure” map.

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Oleg Chebeneev

The argument that developers wanted for players to do dungeons only once is just dumb.

Dungeons were big because there wasnt much to compare them to. So noone even thought that those dungeons were too big back then.

They feel big NOW because modern gamers have shorter attention span, they prefer to chew content in small doses, so devs shorten content duration in all MMOs. And vanilla content started to look big in comparison. Its also why Blizzard cut some old dungeons to make them smaller.

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Nathan Aldana

Or, or, maybe just because players arent as tolerant of vacuous bul;lshit doesnt mean they have shorter attention spans, just less tolerance for filler disguised as interesting concent.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Shorter attention span is something not only gamers but whole human civilization gained after internet became a thing. Kids today refuse to read something that is longer than a few paragraphs.

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Bruno Brito

Kids today refuse to read something that is longer than a few paragraphs.

You know there’s something called Harry Potter, right?

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Nathan Aldana

people still read books all the time, dude, even younger people.

Stop trying to pretend you;re somehow intellectually superior to “the kids today” just to make yourself feel better.

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Oleg Chebeneev

When I said “whole human civilization” has shorter attention span, I meant you and myself included. You can argue about this if it makes you feel better.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

One thing the internet does is create paradox. I’d argue that Twitter, et al., makes us think more concisely. And demand that others do the same. At the same time, other parts of the internet YouTube, et al.) encourage bloviation.

Shrug.

Covynant001
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Covynant001

Whew, you might wish to take your own advice, especially when the facts don’t support your position.

Reading has been in a long, steady decline for almost 40 years now, especially among adults in the US.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/29/leisure-reading-in-the-u-s-is-at-an-all-time-low/

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Nathan Aldana

especially among adults

so its not that kids dont read, its that uncle joe doesnt

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Khrome

A lot of the vanilla dungeons required a good afternoon to be able to get through properly, at least on your first few tries or at their intended levels. That kind of time investment is massive, especially when WoW isn’t the only one on the block demanding attention.

You can read a few pages at a time of a book. You can watch one episode at a time of a TV show, or watch part of a movie, pause it, and come back later.

You can play Baldur’s Gate the same way, or Pillars of Eternity, or any other very long and complex singleplayer game. You play for half an hour, save, deal with real life issues, and come back to it when you have the time.

You can’t “pause” a dungeon in an MMO. You’ve got 4 other people with you committing to the same activity, who you may have spent a while even gathering in one place. You’re “locked in” to that dungeon, and not finishing it in one go will feel like an enormous waste of time, and put quite a bit of stress on an individual player, not to mention the peer pressure from the other people in the party to complete it.

Don’t underestimate this aspect. Not everyone has an entire saturday to burn on finding a party and going through one single dungeon, so to speak – The high school kid from back which had that freedom and free time back then grew up, got a job, got other hobbies they discovered along the way, got married, got kids, and all the other things that simply happen in life.

So, no, it’s not about ‘short attention spans’. Not even close.

THAT SAID: I do agree that an option for longer dungeons for those who enjoy it might be nice, tough that idea comes with its own caveats.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Your argument doesnt make my post look wrong, more like your prove my point why developers cut content duration.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

Because: Fun.

The Deadmines was epic in vanilla, Blackrock Depths even more so.

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Nathan Aldana

having ran them back in the day I’d argue theyre only epic on the first run, by the 6th run theyre just tedious and long.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

It was still fun for me then too, 6th, 12th, 18th run whatever. I had some very nice guildee’s who I can do endless re-runs of dungeon instances with though. That helped a lot. The guild members were also friends and having players around you who’s company is enjoyed made all the difference. One person’s poison is another person’s drink, metaphorically, as well perhaps. The dungeon runs were also done during saved instances and over time to pace out the fun and reduce tedium.

But also sometimes the dungeon instances would be reset for the hell of it. Lerrrroyyyyyyy Jenkkkkkins!

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styopa

Sounds like he’s guessing. I mean, sure, it’s a theory. But it doesn’t make much sense: if your dungeons are instanced (so everyone can do them) but you only expect people to do them once (ala D&D dungeons) then why COULD you run them multiple times?

This would have been something easily managed even with the tech of the time – it wouldn’t have required the later more-sophisticated phasing at all, it could just be a dungeon-state saved PER character when they exit the dungeon. It probably could have been less than a 5k file per instance.

Let’s not forget as well that between EQ and WoW we’re talking massively different scale of dungeons. Seblis, for example? BRD (the famously-longest instance in WoW and my personal favorite) was IMO comparable to Seblis.

Seblis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs4llkROSnQ

Or Guk:comment imagecomment imagecomment image

EQ “dungeons” were more ‘zones with a roof’ like Moria in LotRO (which then logically flows to the OTHER end of the spectrum as well: the DDO/Neverwinter model of ‘instanced’ world zones)

Nah, while EQ was the dominant game in town and Blizzard was happy to copy, polish, and improve whatever they could steal, it feels more like the various dungeons were experiments.

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Daniel Reasor

My understanding of the reason for the instancing – if I remember an ancient dev blog on the matter correctly – was to avoid a common problem in Everquest, where players would feel obligated to wait in line to kill a boss that was out in the public world.

Instancing was new hotness technology when Vanilla was in development. Parties could now have their very own copy of the dungeon assigned to them, and have all the dangers and all the rewards to themselves. It was about using lessons learned from Everquest’s overcrowding to manage traffic better, not necessarily making players repeat the dungeons until they’d hoovered up every rare drop.

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Schmidt.Capela

Also, PvP. In a game where open world PvP was supposed to be a main part, more ingrained into the core systems and lore than EQ did (blizzard originally thought almost no one would choose PvE servers), having PvP interrupting dungeon runs all the time would get old very fast.

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thalendor

Regardless of the reasons for the change, of the designs and concepts often associated with “old school” MMO design, large dungeons that offered a real sense of exploration is among those I miss the most.

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Minimalistway

I never played Everquest so the idea of open world dungeon is unfamiliar for me, i never saw it in any other MMO, and now i think many MMOs including WoW should bring this idea back in a different way.

One more thing, current classic players know too much about Classic dungeons, so the time it take to clear them is much shorter, finding a group to go into the dungeons may take more time than finishing it :-)

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styopa

If you try Project Gorgon, you’ll get both:
a) an experience of the graphics of Y2k MMOs, :)
b) an ‘open world dungeon’ right on Noob island.

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Daniel Reasor

Outdoor mini-dungeons that you can find in WoW Classic, complete with Elite mobs, include Pyrewood Village in Silverpine Forest and Mo’Grosh Stronghold in Loch Modan. Both places are meant for groups of players, as are the quests for those spots.

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FaerieRose

Public dungeons in ESO work this way.