Fractals Addendum: Splitting Out Fractal Runs

(Credit to ohoni and braballa for the token/key suggestion, and for getting me thinking in this direction)

UPDATE: Changed to reflect a more flexible approach to keys and flags.

On the reddit thread, one objection I’ve seen to  doing Fractals that I hadn’t thought about much was the sheer length of them. Any run of Fractals will take over an hour, and even the shortest Level 49 run will be about an hour and a half with PUGs. Let’s not even get started on low level runs where only one person (or none) knows the encounter mechanics. (three hours…at level 8)

Most people don’t have that kind of time available. Ironically, a format built for short, bite-size mini-dungeons strung together is more time-intensive than an actual full dungeon (or a full set of 3 paths with an experienced party).

So why not split fractal runs per fractal? Then the advantage of having a mini-dungeon is leveraged for people who might have 20-30 minutes handy, but not 60-90.

Rather than the current existence where people have time for just that first fractal, have to leave, and their reward level never moves from 1, why not implement a system that tracks individual fractal completion?

Some Pre-Considerations

The existing system of 3+1 (3 regular fractals, 1 boss fractal) should remain the default. It’s hard-coded into the existing framework of transit (porting into a fractal, and porting out to the next one, or back to Mistlock for boss fractals).

Switching to single fractal run mode should be a conscious choice by a player (and by extension, the party). An easy way to implement the conscious choice is to have an NPC with an option to switch into single run mode at the beginning of a fractal run.

To ease implementation difficulty, single successive runs should not be constrained to a certain level. By that I mean, if a personal reward level 11 player does a single run at 11, the next run only has to be 11+ (to fulfill the equal-or-higher requirement for advancing personal reward). This prevents the double problem of restricting party options (similar to the pre-January 2013 level locking of release Fractals) and validating that a run started at 11 stayed 11.

Depending on difficulty of implementation, single run mode could be persistent across multiple runs (go back to the NPC to turn it off), or only retained for that single run (go back to the NPC to turn it back on next time).

Implementation Possibility 1: Tier Keys, Flexible (Credit to Ohoni)

To illustrate this, I’m going to step through how it would appear to a party. NOTE: Keys themselves are account bound and unsellable.

After activating single run mode, a party is given a choice of tier 1, 2, or 3 fractal. They pick a tier 2, complete it, and receive a Tier 2 key fragment from the end chest.

They come back a day later (or any period of time later), each having a Tier 2 key fragment in inventory, and talk to the NPC again, being offered the same choices. They do another Tier 2, and get another Tier 2 key fragment.

The third day, they have time for both a Tier 1 and Tier 3 fractal, getting a Tier 1 and Tier 3 fragment. Similar to the old Tricolor Key from the Tower of Nightmares, double-clicking any of the keys with all three fragments in inventory will create a boss key.

With a boss key in inventory, players talking to the NPC gain the option of doing a boss fractal. Doing a boss fractal removes the completed key from inventory. Once a boss fractal at their personal reward level or higher is completed, personal reward level increases by 1.

Considerations

Players are not limited in what tier fractals they complete, but without all three fragments they cannot ever do a boss fractal. This allows for the flexible case of only enough time for tier 1’s during the week, and a pile of tier 2’s and 3’s are done on the weekend to open the possibility of boss fractals and personal reward level increases.

Also, the NPC needs to check the inventory of all players to make sure they all have a completed key. If anyone is missing a completed key, the NPC will not allow the party to do a boss fractal.

Advantages

  • Because the key fragments are actual items, it’s less data to track at the player level. All the NPC has to check for is the presence of boss keys to give the option of doing a boss fractal.
  • Adding key items and doing an inventory check is likely simpler to do than setting and clearing account data flags. It might be equivalent, though, negating this as an actual advantage.
  • Extremely flexible to player time, while  fairly simple to implement. Key combination logic already exists due to the Tricolor key, it’s a matter of porting it.
  • Fully fulfills the paradigm of splitting the time requirement out while retaining the existing tier and personal reward advancement.

Disadvantages

  • Adding key-check logic to an NPC might be a hefty coding challenge.
  • The raw flexibility of the system might not be ideal for ArenaNet’s plans. Being able to spam tier 1’s over and over again (though with no actual increase in reward level), or building up a huge stack of completed keys before spamming boss fractals in succession, might be things ArenaNet wants to avoid.

Implementation Possibility 2: Tier Keys, in Succession

To illustrate this, I’m going to step through how it would appear to a party. NOTE: Keys themselves are account bound and unsellable.

After activating single run mode, a party is ported to a tier 1 fractal of the level chosen. They complete it, the end chest hands them a Tier 2 key, and they are ported back to the Mistlock Observatory.

They come back a day later (or any period of time later), each having a Tier 2 key in inventory, and talk to the NPC again. Having the key in inventory unlocks the ability to run a Tier 2 straight from the Mistlock Observatory. They complete that Tier 2, the end chest hands them a Tier 3 key.

They come back, do a Tier 3, get a Boss key for it. They use it and it ports them to a boss fractal. They finish the boss fractal, personal reward goes up by 1, and they repeat the process.

Considerations

For a party to run anything not a Tier 1 fractal, all members must have the necessary tier key dropped from an end chest. The NPC will state if anyone doesn’t meet the requirements to continue forward.

This is a necessary requirement to avoid piggyback abuse where people find a person with a Boss key and ignore the other three fractals entirely. (Anyone who remembers Domain of Anguish in GW1 likely recalls Mallyx-only runs where only one person needed the quest done for everyone to get a chance at the end chest) The idea of this suggestion is to mirror the 3+1 challenge of existing Fractals while splitting the time requirement up into four distinct pieces.

One side possibility is that someone leaves mid-single fractal (which is…really a shame). To keep the piggyback abuse at bay, anothercheck needs to be done for anyone new joining to see if they have the required Tier key. Anyone who fails will trigger a popup stating “XX player is not eligible to enter this fractal.”

Another way to implement this check is to inform the party, but allow them to join. The person gains no key, and no progress towards the next personal reward level.

Advantages

  • Because the keys are actual items, it’s less data to track at the player level. They bring it with them to change the NPC’s dialogue for what tier fractal they are allowed to run.
  • Adding key items and doing an inventory check is likely simpler to do than setting and clearing account data flags. It might be equivalent, though, negating this as an actual advantage.
  • Fully fulfills the paradigm of splitting the time requirement outwhile retaining the existing tier and personal reward advancement.

Disadvantages

  • Likely requires two different loot tables for chests, since parties doing the default method of 3+1 have zero use for a key to get back into the fractals they’re running straight through.
  • Adding key-check logic to an NPC might be a hefty coding challenge, as well as adding the logic to send a party to a different tier fractal based on that same NPC.
  • Could cause very specific LFG issues, as people advertise for “Second fractal, need Tier 2 key, lvl 13″.
  • Needs additional key-check logic for people joining in the middle of a run due to leavers.

Implementation Possibility 3: Account Flags

Rather than binding the progression requirement to an item, the account data itself could hold the last completed fractal tier.

Progressing to a boss fractal, whether within the single run approach or as part of a full 3+1 would clear the flags and increment personal reward level.

Piggybacking with this would be limited by the same checks, with the flag not being changed in value if the player is allowed to join.

Advantages

  • Requires no inventory management on the part of the player. It’s already set by a flag, and the NPC will tell them what fractal tier they can enter.
  • Requires no additional loot table for end chests. It’s a flag, instead of an item.
  • Easier to data-check if a player can enter mid-fractal due to leavers. At least, I think so. It might be equivalent time to access that data.
  • Also fully fulfills the splitting paradigm.

Disadvantages

  • Account data might not have space for a single run fractal flag. This might literally not be possible.
  • Would require additional UI elements to indicate current tier. With a key, it’s obvious what you have unlocked. With a flag, development effort needs to be made to expose the current value of that flag.
  •  Could cause very specific LFG issues. See above.

Overall Considerations

Implementing single-run fractals would require a fair amount of new coding to create an NPC that can ship parties to a specific tier of fractals, as well as check if the party has the right item/flag for something. UI logic to expose account flags might also be required.

However, all the other pieces already exist:

  • NPC conversation trees can already check for the presence of an item (or an account flag).
  • The Fractals of the Mists background transit logic differentiates between Tiers 1, 2, 3, and boss.
  • Personal reward levels are only increased by completing an at-or-higher boss fractal.

It’s actually a great case where code modularity (and based on the changes to create tiers and when to load a boss fractal in Fractured, the code very likely is modular for Fractals transit) comes in handy.

The core difficulty is splitting those pieces out to be done separately, instead of all in sequence. From a high-level perspective, not as difficult to implement as I thought at first.

Conclusion

Fractals is very long, which is ironic for something that’s a set of mini-dungeons strung together. Adding logic to create “single fractal runs” would leverage the advantage of mini-dungeons, and better accommodate players with limited time available.

This has the knock-on advantage of increasing the appeal of players who like an extra challenge and unique encounters, but don’t have 60-90 minutes to play straight through.

Implemented properly, it retains the personal reward increase paradigm, while splitting the time effort required into smaller, more manageable pieces. Additionally, it prevents piggyback abuse.

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