Proving Grounds and Endless Games

After one day, my first big comment  on PG is structural. When I think of an “endless” game that worked really well, let’s say Plants vs. Zombies, a key feature is that you’re carrying over a lot of game state from one wave to the next. All your plants and their locations (which is a lot of information), as well as how much money you’ve banked and whether some plants are at partial HP. The first one (the plants you’ve already set up) is the important one. In fact, the point of Endless is that you handle later waves by using the easy early waves as efficiently as possible to build up as solid of an arrangement as you can. To put a finer point on it, the early waves are still interesting because you have a big incentive to find as much slack as possible that you can use to set up plants in a way that will pay off later. For example, saving up for very expensive plants right away, which makes the early waves harder because you have almost no defenses.

To sum up in two words, I think a completely necessary feature of an endless-series-of-waves challenge is the ability to “get ahead” early on.

In Proving Grounds, almost the only game state you’re carrying from one wave to the next is your mana bar (and cooldown state, but that only has a 1-3 minute lifespan). The only others are your party’s current HP (mostly isomorphic to “mana” since you can use mana to top people off between waves though) and whether all the mobs are dead (more on this later). So at the outset of the discussion, mana is brought front and center. It’s all that connects one wave to the next. I want to point out also that I only tried healing so far, but for DPS/tanks who don’t even have a mana component, is there anything connecting a wave to the next? Or is it a series of completely independent fights?

The PvZ example is meant to illustrate the importance in an endless-waves challenge of having some continuity of action throughout all the waves. If they are truly independent, then once a player can do waves 1 through N and fails at wave N+1, there is no reason for him to keep playing waves 1 though N. In fact this is very quickly going to become boring or annoying. The player needs a reason to re-engage waves 1 through N mentally and make a continuous challenge out of optimizing his performance, such that each time he does so he improves his chances of beating N+1.

Anecdotally, I had this response as a player yesterday, literally the first time I’d ever lost in Proving Grounds. I was at Endless wave 8 and thought, “ugh, I have to do waves 1 through 7 again to try that again”. The reason I thought that (I realized later) is that nothing I saw doing waves 1 though 7 the first time made me think that doing them better or differently was going to improve my odds in wave 8. The only thing I needed in order to get past wave 8 was to try wave 8 a few times in a row to see exactly what was giving me trouble. That I couldn’t do that without replaying 1 through 7 felt tedious.

In the healing case, we have mana for some continuity. I think the ramifications of having the mana system bear this much weight in a healing challenge are something I’ll get into in a later post. It’s worth commenting in my personal example that mana wasn’t a factor at all when I failed wave 8, it was pure spike damage. And again, in the non-healer challenges–will I find anything serving this purpose or will waves 1 through N be a matter of rote repetition once I’m attempting wave N+1. All I can think of is cooldowns, but that’s only a partial solution: I can get some value out of learning to do N and N-1 without my cooldowns, but still, none of the earlier waves matter.

So this whole post was on one issue, but if I’d been sitting in the room when people first discussed Proving Grounds, this would have been a fundamental objection. Right now I’m not convinced there’s anything here that justifies an Endless mode. I know that sounds dramatic, but what I’m pushing for isn’t to delete Endless mode. It’s to think of something we can add to Endless mode that will make clear why the “Endless” structure is a better idea than say, a distinct 4th/5th difficulty level (where the final difficulty would be the same as waves 25-30 of current Endless).

PS: I framed all my thoughts in terms of Endless as I wrote this, but in retrospect this issue is not so narrow. Any additions/changes that are responsive to what I’m describing here would improve the gameplay of the other modes as well as Endless.

6 thoughts on “Proving Grounds and Endless Games

  1. Would this work as a fix? Incorporate positional planning into the phase design to get the players thinking more about actual raiding mechanics and setups? Kind of like treating each person entering the PGs like a raid leader, giving them a mechanic (maybe use the xtra function button when highlighting a friendly unit to tell it where to move) to determine the positioning for the tanks and dps.

    Haven’t actually tried them yet on the PTR so not sure how applicable the above is to what they have actually implemented so far.

    • For dps, waves are connected by cooldown states and only that.

      They have Megaera, right there, in current content to compare to. A repetitive boss, in simimlar waves. The first 5 or 6 waves/heads are simply tedious, not engaging after you’ve done it once;this is feedback that has croped up in every forum.

      What I’m hoping for PG is that the implementation we’re given is just the barebones of a system they can further develop in the future. For instance, they could implement a new resource, the dkp-bar, that you can award to your npcs to make them stronger and less prone to taking damage, thusly laying ground for the next wave.

  2. I wonder if it is about pacing. Assume they want most everyone to work really hard to complete thirty waves, and they don’t want to tune them separately for different classes.

    With the current model, they could make every wave easy enough that you usually succeed (90% success rate), and you’ll still end up seeing a few hundred waves before you get the thirty-wave achieve.

    With the “complete a wave and never need to do it again” model, each wave needs to be very tough (perhaps 7% success rate), to make you take the same amount of time. If a wave is tuned so that the best healing (say priest) finds it very difficult, other classes (say shaman) may find it impossible.

    Still, something in-between is certainly possible. For healers, the rule could be that it isn’t a wipe until the entire party is lost, but anyone you lose on a particular wave is not available (or available, but substantially weaker) for the next few waves. If the fights are tuned so that not losing anybody means you did better-than-expected, than good (or bad) performance from earlier waves has a meaningful affect on later waves.

    • Well, I’m not necessarily saying I want to complete each wave an never do it again. I’m trying to figure out how you could justify having to replay all the waves that you already know how to do. The idea of Endless waves is fun. Which is to say, I _want_ to have enough content to justify playing through many waves before I get to the end, not just doing a 25 easy ones and then try the hard ones a few times and then be done. But the last thing I want is to tack on a lot of re-grinding to a system that doesn’t make it interesting.

      Yeah, something like that for healers could work. In general, some kind of buff carrying forward based on how well you do would help. It might be hard to tune the dead-player thing, since any wave which is reasonably challenging to the NPC party might be impossible with someone dead. But something to that effect.

  3. You know, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what annoyed me the most about PG, but you’ve actually done it for me. I’m a huge fan of Plants vs. Zombies, and I looooove endless mode in that game. When I tried out Proving Grounds, I was just honestly annoyed – both by the repetitive nature of the early waves (literally nothing interesting until wave 7 or 8 of Gold, and even then it’s only a problem if you get really bad RNG with the AI of your party members, and then the same in Endless) and by the fact that I had to completely regear/regem/renchant just to hit my haste breakpoints (I was pretty annoyed that I couldn’t hit even the first one as Holy because of the ilvl drop).

    I think something else you might bring up is how gimped certain specs are on the healing one. None of my CC other than Void Tendrils (talented) actually works on the mobs. They’re stunnable, rootable, snareable, interruptable and you can knock them back, but that’s it. So classes with a lot of stuns/roots/snares/interrupts/knockbacks will have a much easier time on the latter waves of Endless than those who do not have those abilities. This is poor design, imo.

  4. Without having experienced it, this sounds like a mana problem (too much mana). Can you at least dps on the earlier waves to make them go faster if this is the case?

    It would probably take a lot of work to make healing performance on the earlier, easier waves affect the outcomes of later waves. WoW is not currently designed around healers being challenged for mana regen, partly because dps specs of hybrid class that retain their healing abilities are also not designed to be limited by mana.

    So classes with a lot of stuns/roots/snares/interrupts/knockbacks will have a much easier time on the latter waves of Endless than those who do not have those abilities. This is poor design, imo.

    Actual PvE encounters are also better suited to certain classes. Giving players different capabilities in the proving grounds does make it harder to compare the competence of players of different classes (or at least their performance after things like latency), but it is still possible to compare relative ranks within a class and this is also better correlated to their usual performance than if proving grounds gave players control of a character with a predefined skillset and gear.

    In other words, proving grounds is not meant to measure a player’s innate competence, but rather their character’s performance in a typical situation.

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