HoTs and DoTs: A Restoration Druid and Shadow Priest

Choreography and Hard Modes

WoW disco dancing

I feel like dancing! Yeah!

On Tuesday (maintenance!) and Friday nights I attend a dance aerobics class called BodyJam. If you’ve never heard about it before, it’s the brainchild of this guy from New Zealand. Every few months they release a new dance routine. Instructors around the world learn it, and turn around and teach it in their classes. We all learn and dance the same routine to the same music.

So Tuesday nights and Friday nights I tend not to think much about gaming. Well, that was until the latest routine was released and I found myself surrounded by 40 odd people awkwardly performing the male Human World of Warcraft dance.

[youtube qJt-vzUS4XM /dance BodyJam style]

Of course, in BodyJam they call this piece of choreography their “Disco Block” and with dance moves like the “Travola” I think it’s safe to say that they were inspired by the same film that the Blizzard animators based their /dance emote on. Regardless, watching the guys in my class all doing the point/hip thrust in unison was gold. Pure gold.

[youtube 066_q4DIeqk John Travola in Saturday Night Fever ... and the WoW dance]

That small piece of choreography was the reason I first drew parallels between my dance class and World of Warcraft. Now consider this:

My best friend and I both attend the Friday night class. Our instructor is very vocal, and likes to take little pauses in the class to explain particularly tricky dance moves before they occur in the routine. She’s not a great dancer.

The instructor who takes the Tuesday night class is a brilliant dancer. He doesn’t say much and he rarely talks through the choreography at all. He leads by example. And the participants in the Tuesday night class just seem to be better dancers.

My friend can’t make the Tuesday night class, but it’s the class of the two that I prefer. If you don’t see the raiding correlation already think of it like this: lengthy, pre-pull fight explanations vs important, succinct directions mid-combat. I know which I prefer.

You see the thing is, even though all the instructors teach the same routine, the end result when you watch them dance can be hugely different. Dancers have their own style, and since this is far from professional dancing, there’s nothing to stop them from approaching the dance moves the way they want – with subtle emphasis on different poses, relaxing into some moves and putting energy into others.

Both my friend and I pick up the choreography pretty quickly. But I think I imitate my Tuesday night instructor’s style a hell of a lot more than I do my Friday night instructor. Sometimes the way my Friday night instructor explains choreography is really helpful, and sometimes the way my Tuesday night instructor explains the choreography makes more sense to me.

I know that I’m better at BodyJam because I am learning from two very different teachers. But the Tuesday night class teaches me more, because the skill of my peers is higher: I can look around the class and think “I like the way she kind of leans into that bit, maybe I’ll try that next repetition”.

It’s no different in raiding. You can learn so much by watching raiders around you, if you are in a skilled group. If you look around mid encounter, your most skilled DPSer is probably keeping their movement down to the absolute minimum. What are they doing to position themselves in advance so that they end up at the right place at the right time?

If there’s another player of the same class/spec as you watch and see how and when they use their mana-regenerating abilities. I know, for example, that the other Shadow Priest in my guild prefers a different timing/sequence on when they like to use Shadowfiend and Dispersion during the Lich King encounter. Try things their way. See which you prefer.

Last Tuesday, a tiny Colombian girl showed up as our BodyJam instructor while our regular teacher was off sick. Not 10 minutes into the class she decided that it was time to ramp up the difficulty. She started teaching flourishes, adding minute changes – additional kicks or arm movements where previously there might have been a simple step. Then she kept pushing us to try them. Then she scolded us for not working hard enough.

Yes, there are hard modes in BodyJam. And tough raid leaders!

It occurred to me that BodyJam has already mastered what Blizzard are trying to do with their Normal/Hard modes. Your typical dance routine is taught as:

  • learn move A
  • learn move B
  • repeat A + B a few times in sequence
  • learn move C
  • repeat A + B + C a few times in sequence
  • learn move D
  • and so forth

In a typical dance routine if you struggle to get the hang of, say Move C, then it doesn’t matter how many additional steps are tacked on, you’ll always get hung up when you reach Move C and feel forever out-of-time or behind the choreography from that point onwards.

[youtube WyDMMsAUL24 How the choreography is taught]

BodyJam is taught very strangely in comparison. You never pause the music, and the routine – which might be made up of say 10 moves each with a count of 4-8 beats – is hardly ever taught in A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H etc sequence. Instead you might learn Move D + a few beats to march on the spot + Move F, repeat that a million times, and then learn Moves A + Move B + Move C and then revisit Move D and Move F and they’ll sneakily turn those few beats pause in between into Move E.

The learning curve is just perfect. Simply perfect. Of course, they probably spend countless hours user testing to get it just right. But it pays off.

The video above is the equivalent of learning Move A + Move B + Move C together. See how some of it is taught at half speed for many repetitions as participants learn the technique? And some nuances aren’t necessary to explain at all (chest pumps and the like), they’re low priority, and you can pick them up on your own.

So when you learn a brand new routine, you might finish the hour long class feeling as though you followed along all the way. After a few classes you realise that you executed every single move, no matter how small. And after a few more classes you start to add style and perfect each move and smooth them altogether.

Then your instructor brings out the “Advanced” options.

The strange thing is, once you’ve done the routine with all the additional advanced flourishes, you realise this was what the routine was always meant to be. The normal difficulty, the one you first learned, actually had a whole bunch of resting beats and simple marches and side steps just waiting to be replaced by elaborate hand/arm or feet movement.

It’s not until you complete the Advanced routine that you even notice all the pauses and mental breaks built into the Basic routine. The timing and positioning of both the Advanced and Basic routines are identical, there’s just a hell of a lot more going on in the Advanced version.

This is what I think Hard mode vs Normal mode in World of Warcraft raiding is meant to be. It’s not until you do Rotface on Hard that you realise that the room is designed to be flooded with slime from the wall. You realise that Ranged DPS were always intended to, well, stand at range instead of stacking with the melee (a typical strategy for normal mode) and puddle jump, dodge slime spray and cope with vile gas without passing it to others.

It seems silly that the transitions in Normal Professor Putricide are, well, a brain rest moment. In Hard mode you don’t get a break, instead you have to carefully kill both a green ooze and a gas cloud at the same time.

If I took the Lich King encounter on Normal mode – a seriously complex fight with many many phases – and decided that was the equivalent of a BodyJam Advanced routine, how would I simplify it for a more Basic routine? Remember: the object is to keep the timing and positioning the same.

First off, you could remove the spawn of Raging Spirits during the transition phase. You wouldn’t remove the transition phase entirely because it’s important to teach people that they need to move to the “safe” outer reaches of the platform while the Lich King casts Neverending Winter.

You could further simplify the first phase by removing the Necrotic Plague ability. Instead, perhaps the Shambling Horrors would slowly die of their own accord during Neverending Winter. This would still teach the raid to position in a triangular shape, with a tank for both the Lich King and the Shambling Horrors.

You could simplify the second phase considerably by putting Defile and Summon Val’kyr on a joined timer so that they never occur at the same time. Defile would be cast, then 30 seconds later Summon Val’kyr would be cast, then 30 seconds later Defile and so forth.

The best Hard mode encounters, in my opinion, are those that make you feel as though this is how the encounter was meant to play out. My least favourite Hard mode encounters are when the damage health and boss health are simply boosted: like Blood Queen Lana’thel.

8 Responses to “Choreography and Hard Modes”

  1. AppleNo Gravatar says

    I just want to say that that dance class/workout sounds SO FUN and I wish my knee would stand up to it. Best way to enjoy working out: y/y?
    Apple’s last post: Blizzard actually BACKED DOWN

  2. RedbeardNo Gravatar says

    Aaaa! Disco! We hates it, we hates it forever!

    Seriously, this is a nice post. I wonder if there’s a correlation between normal and heroic 5-man runs too, but my first guess is that Blizz built the 5-mans with normal mode in mind first, then added the heroic stuff later. With the raids, it sounds like you could make an argument that they worked on the hard modes first and then adjusted to normal mode.
    Redbeard’s last post: and the theory crafters go bonkers

  3. CalsongNo Gravatar says

    I’ve done a little bit of dance and you’re right—sometimes it is harder when you work on a simplified version.

    Professor Putricide is one of my most loved hard mode encounters. It feels, going back to regular mode on alts, like the fight keeps slowing down or stopping. There are big pauses where I’m looking around for a plague target to swap with or repositioning for a double ooze.

    I loved reading about hard mode changes the first time around and thinking “wait… and we have to do what?” Reading about Blood Princes for the first time and thinking about the added challenge of limited movement got my heart racing.

    In Cata, i hope for more carefully tuned heroic encounters. I’ll even forgive Blizz if the regulars feel slow or choppy :P

  4. NazanielNo Gravatar says

    Hey, that dancing class sounds like fun, and I love your analogy :)

  5. yojoNo Gravatar says

    this should be the female goblin dance….

  6. CassandriNo Gravatar says

    Honestly it’s been so long since I did the normal vs heroic dungeons I just can’t think of any examples. For something like Nexus wouldn’t they just have scaled up the damage dealt and health appropriate to a lvl 80 heroic instead of a lvl 70 dungeon?

    Some of the early hardmodes – Sarth + 3 and Heartbreaker definitely felt like they were designed in hard mode first, then simplified. Thorim + Sif too maybe?

  7. RedbeardNo Gravatar says

    In The Nexus, you gain an extra boss in the area with the imprisoned Alliance/Horde characters. (Stoutbeard for Horde, and I don’t know who for Alliance. Gotta love Stoutbeard’s intro line: “What the–? Don’t just stand there, hit somebody!” Smack first, ask questions later.) Unlike, say, Gundrak, where they kind of shoehorned Eck off on the side, the extra boss in The Nexus actually flows well with the instance.

    However, the extra boss is more the exception rather than the rule. Typically, you see a scaling up in the levels and the addition of more boss mechanics.

    I’d like to see Blizz tweak things a bit more in Heroic mode so that it isn’t a 20 minute cruise control event as it is for the ICC-25 geared toons. Maybe having a scalable Heroic mode, where the software gauges the party’s gear and scales the levels and mechanics of the bosses appropriately, would do the trick.
    Redbeard’s last post: and the theory crafters go bonkers

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