There has been this problem in MMORPGs of having to have sufficient content… in the form of whatever bad guys or monsters… or mobs if you want to go Diku MUD old school in your terminology… available for players while not looking like you are packing them in like a vending machine.
This was not really a problem back in the days of MUDs simply because the populations were tiny. A MUD that kept 100+ player population online around the clock was a booming success in 1995. But when it came to Ultima Online or EverQuest there was a mass of players eager to play and advance, and advancement comes through the slaying of foes. At least in old Norrath that ended up meaning a pile of mobs outside of home towns to start with, most non-aggro, and then a sort of series of concentric circles of higher level, more difficult mobs in bands as you moved further from the starting zone.
It wasn’t quite so cut and dried in the early days. EverQuest was pretty well known for mixing high and low level mobs together in a zone. West Karana was mostly a low level hunting ground, but had that cyclops and a werewolf and a few other surprises lurking about.
But by 2004 and the introduction of EverQuest II and World of Warcraft the idea of how mobs had to be stratified seemed to be pretty settled. Outside every town or quest hub would be several layers of mobs of increasing levels of difficulty. My mind immediately goes to the vast array of gnoll camps in the low hills of Antonica, outside of Qeynos, back in EQII.
When it comes to WoW, Westfall springs to mind with its rings of Defias around the main alliance outpost.
In both cases, there were lots of mobs present, spread out to accommodate parallel sets of adventurers, and just sitting there, milling about, waiting for somebody to show up. You could avoid them… in both zones the general logic was that such groups would be clear of the roads… but they certainly looked like they had the place surrounded, if in a somewhat desultory way. They were off far enough to not aggro anybody accidentally, spread out, oblivious to their fellows being slain while clearing in line of sight (but outside of their aggro radius), and looking pretty static.
And they remained there long after you were done with them, but still had to be avoided unless you just wanted to kill a few extra gnolls or Defias.
Blizzard set out to solve this and, with Wrath of the Lich King introduced two things.
The first was phasing, where the environment changes after you complete a specific quest or task. While problematic, it did allow the game to remove mobs that no longer made sense in the context of the story.
Then there was a slightly more subtle bit of work that took all those mobs idling around the quest hub and gave them something to do. They were put onto the field with a like number of your allies and set in a pitched battle, NPC on NPC, so everybody looked busy. That also kept the field from being a nightmare to pass through, as the hostiles otherwise engaged would not aggro on you unless you attacked them. But the NPCs were otherwise barely chipping away at each other, so you could step in and attack a hostile and end up battling them directly, as aggro was easily pulled from the NPC it was fighting.
And, as it happened, that worked out and has become a staple of Azeroth ever since, an easy way… well, I don’t know if it is easy, so maybe just a reliable way… to put that first belt of mobs out there that you need to kill without having them look idle or bored and without them becoming an annoying wall of conflict when you need to move through them to the next location.
Old news. That was back in 2008, which is further from today than from the launch of the game. But I was reminded of how that played out when I ran across an old screen shot from EverQuest II, a screen shot that raises my hackles to this day.
SOE was on to a similar idea to what Blizzard eventually adopted, that mobs ought not to be static but should interact with their environment and trade blows with their natural enemies should they run across them. And they put a bit of that in from the start of the game.
So we have the Deathfist runesmith in the screen shot battling with the local faeries. They are natural enemies and they should not get along. Dynamic environment!
The problem here was implementation. Unlike the Blizzard solution, SOE left the locked encounter code in place, so when the the runesmith began fighing with the faeries, you could no longer attack him and get credit for killing him. And you needed to kill him, as you were likely there in the Valley of Sacrifice to slay him and seven more like him. Only he was something of a rare spawn. And when he did spawn, he spawned near the faeries, who would immediately engage him.
So you had to clear all the faeries, clear all the place holders, and keep clearing them across a stretch of land, because if you missed a faerie your runesmith might spawn and get tagged before you got to him.
And that all assumed you were the only one out there looking to get him. Solo, and in optimum conditions, I have spent well over an hour trying to get those eight kills. If somebody else was there hunting Deathfist runesmiths as well, then the competition became fierce because… if I recall right… back in the day you didn’t just have to kill them, but you also needed a drop, a drop that wasn’t 100%.
And you couldn’t just dump the quest, as it was step 8 in a 23 quest long chain that ran all over the isle of Zek and which would eventually send you off to Feerrott.
SOE had the right idea. The implementation was just such that it seemed to maximize frustration. If it had been some common mob, it would have been interesting.
Then again, they did create a situation that I still think of years after I last ran through the Valley of Sacrifice on the isle of Zek. And I bet it hasn’t changed after all these years.