The increasing memory demands of raids

Dungeons, Raids and Scenarios
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Over the course of the game’s development, the fights have become more and more complicated. The bosses have more abilities, requiring more movement, and more coordination as a group. These bosses are requiring greater memory demands, greater multi-tasking, and faster reactions to things happening in the environment. These actions all happen while we also complete a complicated series of button presses or mouse-clicks related to filling a specific role in the raid (tanking, healing, or damage dealing). While it is okay for hard-mode versions of the fights to really push the boundaries of human cognition, it is unacceptable for LFR versions of the fights to exceed people's memory and information processing capacities.

The full post is available on my blog. I can't post the tables & graphs on the forums. http://www.restokin.com/2013/04/the-psychology-of-boss-design-part-1-information-overload/

Can you remember all the mechanics?
Today, I wanted to talk about Memory abilities and how it impacts our ability to learn how to kill bosses in WOW.

Short-term Memory: Your ability to remember items over a short period of time (Wikipedia). Science cites 5 to 9 items (7 + 2) as the range for the maximum numbers of unrelated words or digits you can hold in mind. In the cases of WOW, you could think of this as the maximum number of unrelated boss mechanics that a player in the raid could remember if your raid leader listed off boss mechanics and you didn’t spend time to memorize them before the fight. Once we pass around 7 boss mechanics, you probably couldn’t actually recite all the mechanics back to your raid leader (and most people wouldn’t even get all 7 right). Basically, your ability to remember new information is limited.

Working Memory: Your ability to both briefly store information and use that information to achieve a goal (Wikipedia). In this case, not only remembering those boss mechanics, but responding to them appropriately during the fight (actually flying to nests, 1, 2, and 5 while also healing your party members, rather than just remembering that you need to fly to nests 1, 2, and 5). The ability to both remember the mechanics and use that information to perform the fight correctly is using a system with very constrained and limited resources.

Long-term Memory: Your long-term memory ability is much less limited than short-term or working memory abilities. You can remember thousands of vocabulary words, math, physics, what to do at your job, etc. If the boss strategy requires too many elements, your goal prior to arriving in the boss room is to study and memorize all the boss mechanics and strategies. Also, with practice (many, many wipes on the boss), you can learn to remember an almost unlimited number of boss mechanics, ability lists, or whatever.

The problem of increasingly more complex fights in WOW:

• It has become apparent quickly to me in Mists of Pandaria that the boss encounters in raids are quickly passing the “sweet spot” in our short-term and working memory capacity. Thus, most boss fights, especially for normal and heroic modes, involves simply memorizing a choreographed “dance” for each fight (committing the boss strategy details to long-term memory in advance by reading boss strategy guides and videos), and then practicing that “dance” with other people in the encounter until you have fully learned the fight “dance”.

• Many people doing fights in LFR don’t spend the time outside of the game learning the “dance,” and the fight mechanics can’t be done with only using short-term memory and working memory abilities when you first encounter the fights. This is why Blizzard has to either totally trivialize the encounters (so you don’t have to remember any of the strategy involved at all), or players generally have a miserable LFR experience. This also applies to more “casual” guilds that may not have the time to commit to serious advanced studying of fights ahead of time. My own guild makes people read and sign threads before arriving, and several of the TOT raid encounters have exceeded our own memory capacities based on the need to really spend an hour or more memorizing the boss details to understand the fight in advance.

• See blog post for math on the increasing memory demands in raids. Table & graph won’t fit on the forums: http://www.restokin.com/2013/04/the-psychology-of-boss-design-part-1-information-overload/

(continued next post)
Conclusions and recommendations:
There is a fairly consistent trend for increases in memory demands over time since Molten Core. In addition, the type of overly complicated fight, which used to be the “end” boss of each tier, is now being placed early in the raid dungeon, causing roadblocks for new guilds trying to get some early progress through normal modes.

Throne of Thunder is really an outlier in terms of the huge increase in memory demands placed upon average raiders.

Suggestions for LFR design and the Dungeon Journal:
For the LFR version of Jin’rokh, you still have 14 bullet points in the dungeon journal (though under my memory scoring strategy, this fight had a memory score of 9 – since earlier raid tiers didn’t have a dungeon journal).

The LFR version just makes it possible to ignore some of those mechanics and still live (though there is absolutely no clear indication of which points will still kill your raid members or not). If someone read you all the names of all the points and asked you to repeat just the names of them back to you, you couldn’t actually do it after only hearing the list once.
For LFR versions of fights, rather than keeping approximately the same number of mechanics to remember and just making mistakes less deadly, it may be necessary to remove a greater number of mechanics from the LFR versions of fights.

In general, I’d recommend keeping the number of points on the dungeon journal for LFR fights below 10. Then, the people without raiding addons or watching fights in advance would have an easier time learning the scaled down version of the fights. The raid designers do this some, but as the number of boss mechanics increases, the memory demands for LFR versions of fights needs to stay in a range that people can handle. In the case of Durumu, the raid finder page of the dungeon journal has 28 different key terms with descriptions. This definitely limits how useful the dungeon journal can be for people running LFR without addons or watching strategy guide videos before entering the raid.
I think addons like DBM being a given are part of the reason complexity has increased. we have timers for almost every mechanic, which otherwise would be impossible to track while dpsing or healing.

I agree a lot of the LFR entries are bloated, and can be overwhelming especially for those who arent using addons or who havent seen the fights beforehand.

some of the info could be condensed, to make things more clear. or at least, organized in a manner that is better for each role: tanks, dps, and heals. for a dps viewing the journal, abilities that detail tank swap mechanics could be moved to the bottom, with damage dealer mechanics having more emphasis instead. same data, just re-organized.
Complex fights, to a degree, are a good thing to have. They add another layer to raiding instead of just a simple boss with simple mechanics. Remembering the mechanics is part of the difficulty. Raiding is supposed to take dedication and practice or else there wouldn't be a learning curve on boss fights.
On Jin'rokh you mentioned that it was information overload. However, in practice, the boss fight is incredibly simple. Without all of those small mechanics there would be little difficulty in the boss fight
some of the info could be condensed, to make things more clear. or at least, organized in a manner that is better for each role: tanks, dps, and heals. for a dps viewing the journal, abilities that detail tank swap mechanics could be moved to the bottom, with damage dealer mechanics having more emphasis instead. same data, just re-organized

Or maybe put some sort of indicator in the dungeon journal that this particular mechanic is important to tank, damage, or healer roles? Sounds like a great idea! Then players not in that role could safely ignore those parts of the journal and look at other pertinent information.

Maybe a shield for tanks, a sword for damage dealers, and a cross for healers. Maybe indicate important fight mechanics with an exclamation point, too.
Or maybe put some sort of indicator in the dungeon journal that this particular mechanic is important to tank, damage, or healer roles? Sounds like a great idea! Then players not in that role could safely ignore those parts of the journal and look at other pertinent information.

Maybe a shield for tanks, a sword for damage dealers, and a cross for healers. Maybe indicate important fight mechanics with an exclamation point, too.


Can't tell if trolling or just very stupid {^_-}
I see 'cheatsheets' being made for players to spam in MoP lfrs, and IMO that works better for them since the DJ entries are very bloated and unfocused. If you bullet-point it down, there's really only a couple of things to remember for each fight. One example can be found here:

http://www.mmo-champion.com/threads/1282983-Halls-of-Flesh-Shaping-(LFR-3)-Guide-amp-Cheat-Sheet

I think players are having more problems with the increased complexity of rotations in MoP than anything. We get new abilities every expansion and there's a significant amount of bloat there. I was fine with a 5 button mouse in Vanilla but I couldn't play without a Naga now.

I do agree that the game's balanced around DBM now more than ever.
Honestly the real problem is that some people just aren't cut out for games past a certain difficulty level/that require effort/etc. And arguably whats going to kill MMOs is trying to get those people into them. They either legitimately can't handle it or have some notion that a game shouldn't require any time or effort on their part. Trying to cater to both worlds is great for money but bad for the actual game. (See: 90% of the content in this sub forum)


It would be pretty easy for Blizzard to be cognizant of memory demands in their design of boss fights, instead of totally ignoring basic human cognitive abilities.

For example, they could cap LFR memory demands at 10, then add 2-4 additional mechanics for normal-modes, and then add 2-4 additional components for heroic. This could put heroic at a maximum of 18 memory components (still very memory intensive and comparable to where we are today) without overloading average raiders running LFR. This actually allows the three difficulty levels to be meaningful in terms of making casual and hardcore raiders all happy. This would have a really nice scale of scaffolding increasing difficulty by adding more mechanics to the fights and allow everyone to raid, regardless of how hardcore they are.

Vanilla & TBC raid encounters were difficult without having to overload people on complexity and exceed the memory capacities of average people. They are defeating DBM by having it constantly spam your screen with messages with the number of constant alerts to track, which is the wrong choice in trying to combat DBM's usefulness for average people.

They can actually have tough LFR fights with some one-shot mechanics by just removing other entire mechanics from the fight compared to normal & heroic, to make it possible to do LFR raids without studying in advance and without addons like DBM. Making the LFR fights actually learn-able would be a huge benefit to the community. It would provide a better user experience for more than just the most hard-core raiders, and would actually make LFR more enjoyable for people.

The DBM warnings flashing on the screen are essentially meaningless if you don't study the fight in advance and memorize the strategy explaining what those key-terms mean. Making LFR raiding an exclusive club that only hardmode raiders can reliably complete defeats the entire purpose of having a LFR version of the fights. You don't have to make hard-mode versions less complex, you just have to make complexity differences between LFR/normal/hard include bigger differences in terms of the number of mechanics.
They already do that to some regard. They design the heroic fight first and strip it down for normal and LFR. A mechanic or two is removed for normal and anything that requires coordination is gone for LFR.
Many of the fights in the dungeon journal have a lot of bullet points that do not apply to every player. And largely many of the bullet points on fights are just more detailed explanations of things.

For example on Primordius there are 8 mutations that are listed in the dungeon journal. But no player actually needs to memorize all 8. Blizz could have easily just had 2 "A helpful mutation that increases Crit, Mastery, or Haste by 10%, or stats by 5%" and "A harmful mutation that reduces Crit, Mastery, or Haste by 20% or stats by 10%".

Additionally on Jin'Rohk as you brought up there are 14 bullet points.

But a good number of those bullet points are not additional information. In reality there are far less things to know.

1. Thundering throw - has 1 bullet point in DJ
2. Pools that DPS/Heals stand in and tanks stand out of (or in LFR that everyone stands in) - has 3 bullet points in DJ
3. Tank Swap debuff - has 2 bullet points in DJ
4. Focused Lightning that needs to be dropped on edges of room where pools do not go, do not overlap - has a grand total of 6 bullet points.
5. Lightning storm where players need to stack in mid away from pools, pools become bad afterwards - has 2 bullet points.

So sure, if you need to know word for word every mechanic that is listed then it is a bit much, but really the dungeon journal could have 5 bullet points for Jin'rokh and still be able to describe all his mechanics. Honestly no more than 4 of those affect any actual role. Tanks do not need to know the mechanics of Focused Lightning, DPS and heals do not need to know the mechanics of the 2 tank swaps.
They did this in DS-LFR, to a bigger extent. For a variety of reasons, they decided just turning off mechanics was not doing a very good job. (busy, but i'll try to post more in depth later)
They already do that to some regard. They design the heroic fight first and strip it down for normal and LFR. A mechanic or two is removed for normal and anything that requires coordination is gone for LFR.


Except that they aren't really removing enough of the mechanics in TOT normal & heroic when the heroic version is exceeding short-term and working memory capacities and are relying primarily on our long-term memory by our memorizing fights prior to entering the raids. The dungeon journals between normal & LFR are the same length, and heroic only adds 1 or 2 additional mechanics. They're still leaving the overcomplexity in place for normal and LFR versions, making it almost impossible for "causal" raiding guilds to kill much of anything in TOT. This is causing huge problems in fights like Durumu where in LFR, you still have huge numbers of people dieing in the maze phase and reaching 10+ wipes. The beams still require you to move on Durumu and there's no clear indication in the fight that you need to run around in circles when you get targeted by the beam. The dungeon journal for Durumu's LFR version still has 28 key terms to remember.

If they keep increasing the number of mechanics for bosses, without keeping in mind human cognition limits, then we will pretty soon (in the next few years) hit the point where casual raiding guilds will stop being feasibly possible at all - because most raiders except for the people with the most time out of game to study the fights - won't be able to learn them.
Many of the fights in the dungeon journal have a lot of bullet points that do not apply to every player. And largely many of the bullet points on fights are just more detailed explanations of things.

For example on Primordius there are 8 mutations that are listed in the dungeon journal. But no player actually needs to memorize all 8. Blizz could have easily just had 2 "A helpful mutation that increases Crit, Mastery, or Haste by 10%, or stats by 5%" and "A harmful mutation that reduces Crit, Mastery, or Haste by 20% or stats by 10%".

Additionally on Jin'Rohk as you brought up there are 14 bullet points.

But a good number of those bullet points are not additional information. In reality there are far less things to know.

1. Thundering throw - has 1 bullet point in DJ
2. Pools that DPS/Heals stand in and tanks stand out of (or in LFR that everyone stands in) - has 3 bullet points in DJ
3. Tank Swap debuff - has 2 bullet points in DJ
4. Focused Lightning that needs to be dropped on edges of room where pools do not go, do not overlap - has a grand total of 6 bullet points.
5. Lightning storm where players need to stack in mid away from pools, pools become bad afterwards - has 2 bullet points.

So sure, if you need to know word for word every mechanic that is listed then it is a bit much, but really the dungeon journal could have 5 bullet points for Jin'rokh and still be able to describe all his mechanics. Honestly no more than 4 of those affect any actual role. Tanks do not need to know the mechanics of Focused Lightning, DPS and heals do not need to know the mechanics of the 2 tank swaps.


Pretty much exactly my thoughts on this, but I was too lazy to type it up.
The DJ hasn't seen a whole lot of refinement since its initial incarnation, and I think it's a bit too focused on the lore aspect and not losing that sense of immersion, as Blizz doesn't want to give out direct game help (Game Masters have limitations on game hints too)

If I was designing it now though, I would have a clickable section that would break down the relevant mechanics for each role. So if you're Healing, it'd show what you need to know for Healing. The main entry still could be left there if people want full tooltips of abilities or the lore behind a fight.

The devs and some players were worried that the existence of a DJ was taking it too far, but videos and guides have always been out there anyway and do a better job. So I think they were just were erring on the side of caution about it, but I can safely say it'd be fine to break down the relevant mechanics by role in a condensed list for pugs/lfr players.
Yea, it would be nice if you could choose to filter it by role like they do for loot.
we need a simple.dungeonjournal.com similar to simple.wikipedia.org
I'd be interested to see your number of boss mechanics table with some sort of filter, where you don't count things that people (in practice) don't actively pay attention to, like:

nobody-in-melee-range nukes for stationary bosses
raidwide or random, unavoidable low-to-medium damage abilities
1 type of adds that need to die when no other type of adds or boss are attackable
etc.

It would also be interesting to have it filtered by role, as a fight with 2 special mechanics for each role means a tank can basically ignore the 4 damage and healer mechanics
Jin'rokh is actually the least intensive of the TOT fights. It's got the overall lowest memory score count of TOT, but I was using it as an example of how there are still way more conditional things that still carry over and aren't really necessary. It's not necessary for the ball to blow up if you drag it over another thing that's been dropped. It doesn't add anything to the fight to have those extra things you have to remember. Even at a memory score of 9 on my blog's table, Jin'rokh is still learnable. Anything under about 10 on my memory rating count are fights that people can generally learn pretty easily.

However, the fact that more than just end-bosses of raid dungeons are coming in with memory scores on normal-mode exceeding more than double what people could remember when a raid leader describes the boss is a bigger problem. It requires hours of studying to truly understand the nest mechanic on the bird boss, and the Durumu encounter mechanics.

Fights like Durumu normal-mode are really far more demanding on people's visual system, attention, and working memory than is really necessary for a normal-mode encounter. The heroic version is fine. The heroic versions should be what require that advanced studying and planning. However, the encounter designers really need to keep human vision, memory, and attention abilities in mind when designing encounters. Experts can remember far more information than beginners, and they need to use the fact that they have 3 raid difficulties to their advantage by varying not just the amount of damage that mechanics do, but being way more cognizant of memory limitations when they design the LFR and normal versions.
When blizzard eliminates mods like DBM and bigwigs, blizzard can start simplifying boss mechanics.

I actually agree with you in so much that bosses to me are starting to feel like giant puzzles and less like epic battles. When I first imagined fighting bosses in wow it was something out of Tolkien, not Mega Man. However, with the mods like DBM and bigwigs letting everyone know the timers for everything, blizzard is forced to add complex mechanics with those mods in mind to maintain challenge. Its a vicious arms race.

Now I am not talking about difficulty here, I am talking about feel and atmosphere. People struggled with simple fights in vanilla. I am talking about how fights have gone from giant battles to dances. From cutting down a powerful enemy to dancing for him before he falls over and gives you loots. Its a really fine line.

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