Where are the Smart Bosses?

[I don’t have pictures from the Antorus fight, but here are some pictures from Dungeons I’ve played in Wow. ] I saw this article in PC Gamer today.

It sounds like he must have been wearing a diaper, but never the less, that’s a lot of work.

In World of Warcraft, players are often willing to go to extremes just to say they’ve done it. Some might spend all their time grinding out hard to get achievements while others will run a raid boss hundreds of times in hopes of getting some rare loot. But Rextroy is of a higher caliber. He beat the first raid boss of Antorus, The Burning Throne all by himself—and it only took him a measly eight hours. His reward? I’m not sure exactly. Bragging rights? I guess?

You can watch the whole video here. It’s been compressed to about 13 minutes. You may want to watch the first few minutes and then skip to near the end to see him hiding in the pool to avoid the huge AOE attack that is supposed to challenge a Raid group of 10-15 players.

So, I was thinking that this boss, or indeed all, of modern bosses in games are not smart. Of course they could be, but in Wow, and in other games I’ve played like Tera and GW2, none of the bosses are smart. They just have a fixed mechanic, or string of them, that plays out during the encounter. The mechanics often change at fixed HP levels during the fight, But in every case that I’ve seen, the places in the HP level where the mechanics change are well known. At various times during the fight, various adds [ or minions of the boss ] spawn to make the fight more interesting. That seems to be as complex as it gets.

I’ve seen low level mobs and bosses that are smart enough to target healers. They don’t start that way, but typically wait until the healer is making a difference keeping the tank and other players alive, and then the boss targets the healer. Mostly the tank threat mechanisms work, and the DPS and Healer avoid the marks on the floor for the AOE attacks and that’s it. Adds appear at fixed times in the fight – usually based on HP level of the boss. And that’s it. Fixed mechanics. I’ve only played low level dungeons in FFXIV, but I’ve seen all these mechanics in the 5-6 Dungeon encounters I’ve played there so far. Nothing fancy.

Of course it could be fancy. With AI, the entire Raid design process could be turned upside down.

What if the Raid and its bosses was easy to clear as the first groups encountered it? And what if it got stronger and gained experience from the folks that were fighting it? Of course the story would have to be more imaginative than they are now. Typically the stories just have you enter the Instance with a group to clean up and finish one story line of the game. If the whole raid were going to get more challenging for future play, then the story would have to take that into account, and some story line would need to be written that included the Raid encounter coming back time after time. But I’m not trying to write a story here, I’m just pointing out a missed opportunity in these games.

I’m not sure it takes an AI engine with the smarts of Alpha Zero [Chess] or Alpha Go [Go obviously] to learn over time and continually challenge players. And it’s likely that good game play would actually cap the learning of a Raid [let’s just say we apply this to Raids] so that it doesn’t keep getting better forever so that no group can beat it. And it probably wouldn’t make sense for a trained up Raid encounter to throw everything it has at a less skilled group. I guess the Raid would have to watch how strong the group was in early encounters and then toss enough at them to keep then challenged the whole way through and if a really tough group showed up, then it should really challenge them. Maybe even wipe them and make them come back.

I’m not just talking about some sort of simple mathematical level scaling here. Not just up the HP of the Raid Bosses and increase the number of waves of Adds or number of Adds per wave. I’m talking about letting the bosses learn some new mechanics or timing with their skills, while still having a limited number of Adds and HP pool.

Right now, Wow and GW2 both have these long grinds where you do some encounters over and over again to collect some currency or some chance on some rare loot like a mount. And of course in Wow, you come back to a lower level Raid as a much higher level character and solo the raid over and over again, once per day, until you get the drop you want. And in GW2, you play over and over again, maybe several times a day on a fixed timer to collect the currency to buy that sweet armor or weapon set that you want. But the Blue Proto Drake mount boss or the Mouth or Mordremoth never changes it’s mechanics based on who shows up and if you play it this month, it’s the same encounter than you saw last year when you first did it.

I look forward to reading an article about a smart Raid that learns from it’s fights and adapts in a smart and inventive way to the groups that fight it. Again, not just “Level Scaling”, but something really inventive. It’s time. We have the technology. If Alpha Zero can be Stockfish and Alpha Go can beat the best Go player, then it’s time that some small set of this technology comes to MMO Raids.


In October last year, Facebook’s attempt at a Starcraft AI threw in the towel and was not able to beat human players. I’m not clear we know why, and I don’t know if they gave up.

But even if it can be beaten, maybe that forms the basis of a new Raid Encounter in that game. If the AI was hard to beat and if it continues to learn from it’s mistakes, maybe it or something like it should go live in that game. It’s not all just about speed of button mashing is it?

Kudo’s to the Wow Player that beat the final Legion Raid Solo, but is Wow just going to remove the pool that the player used to survive the fight, or make the boss smarter?