Interviews with Mike Morhaime and Rob Pardo, Wizard Guide, and Curse Survey
Mists of Pandaria Interview with Ion Hazzikostas
We had the opportunity to talk to Ion Hazzikostas (Lead Encounter Designer) at the Mists of Pandaria Launch event.
Originally Posted by Blizzard EntertainmentQ: Can you tell us a little more about your job and the responsibilities of the encounter design team?
A: I am the lead encounter designer for World of Warcraft. I run the team that makes the raid and dungeon content for the game. We also help out with major scenario bosses and outdoor quest bosses. We are specialists in multiplayer PvE combat.
Q: Are you happy with how the PvE content turned out?
A: Incredibly happy. We have more endgame PvE content than ever before in any of our expansions. We have 18 raid bosses waiting for players. 16 in instances and 2 outdoor world bosses. Nine instances, a new challenge mode feature, and there is really no end to the new raid and dungeon content.
Q: Do you have a favorite encounter?
A: That's like asking me to pick a favorite child. It's tough. One encounter that is really cool and I am looking forward to players seeing in the Mogu'shan Vaults raid, which opens up next week, is the Spirit Kings encounter. That is an encounter that has four ancient Mogu kings. The Mogu'shan Vaults is the repository of ancient Mogu history and secrets. They are the race that rule over the continent of Pandaria thousands of years ago, before their empire crumbled mysteriously. Their greatest secrets and history have been locked away in this vault. As players are exploring it, they trigger a trap or unlock something that reanimates the spirits of four of the great Mogu warlords from the past. The mechanics of the encounter are very reminiscent of the Omnitron Defense Council in Blackwind Descent where the bosses come out in a different order. Each one of those poses different threats as well as some very cool visuals. It is just a very dynamic experience that will change every time you pull the boss or play the encounter. I think players are going to have a really great time with it.
Q: What's next for your team?
A: Fixing bugs, though there won't be any in the content once players get to see it. We will always be working on the next thing. We are going to keep making more raids and more dungeons, so we are hard at work on whatever comes next. Players will have to see what that is.
Q: Can you give us an example of something that didn't make it out in the expansion?
A: For the most part we got the main things that we wanted to get out there out there. There is really more end game content than ever before. There were a couple of scenarios that players who were in the beta might have seen names of that we are still working on and will release in a future patch. The actual core raid and dungeon content that we wanted is all there.
Q: Scenarios seems to be aimed at a more casual play. Will we ever see some more challenging scenarios that really pushes the players?
A: Potentially. One of the main features of the scenario system is how accessible it is. It is a short, roughly 15 minute experience. There are no specific role requirements, so the queues are really quick. You can hop on during your lunch break, queue for a scenario, and you will be playing a scenario right away, which is a very cool thing. As a primarily queue focused experience, those scenarios aren't the best place to push the envelope of challenging content. Now that is not to say that we might not explore that space in the future, in terms of smaller group content that doesn't necessary have the traditional Tank, DPS, and Healer roles, but is hard.
One lesson that we have learned from Cataclysm is that challenging PvE content and random matchmaking queues don't really go well together. One of the core experiences that we hope for players to have as game designers when we make challenging content is the evolution of learning a fight. You fail initially, you make mistakes, you lose. Then you adapt, learn from those mistakes, apply your knowledge, and you eventually overcome and win. You feel good about that and you celebrate. Then you come back next time and you get to apply your knowledge and exhibit mastery of the encounter. That is really what feels good and reinforces the whole learning mechanism of learning the encounter and mastering it.
That breaks down when you are playing with random groups. You might have learned the mechanics, but that is no guarantee that the people you are playing with have done the same. Your own personal knowledge ends up not mattering when it comes to success or failure, and that can lead to frustration. We heard a lot of feedback about the release dungeons in Cataclysm, so we applied that to crafting our experiences for the Mists of Pandaria heroic dungeons, which players should find much less frustrating. At the other end of the spectrum we have a challenge mode difficulty that will make sure that the hardcore guilds or groups of friends who like to play together and use voice chat for coordination that was required in the Cataclysm launch heroics have that gameplay experience available to them.
Q: The legendary questline and itemization seems to work differently in Mists of Pandaria, with entire raids getting a legendary gem upgrade. Did raid design influence this decision to make raid balancing easier and make sure it doesn’t depends on how many legendary weapons people stack?
A: What players are seeing of the legendary quest experience throughout Mists of Pandaria in Patch 5.0 is just the tip of the iceberg. As players may have seen hinted at the in the achievement names, there are future steps to this questline in Patch 5.1, 5.2, and so forth. The legendary gem is just the first step. It is something players can work on in parallel. It isn't something where the guild leader has to decide who gets the first or second. Anyone who works on the personal parts of the quests and does the raid portion gets a gem which they can put in a Sha-Touched weapon from LFR, Normal, and Heroic. The stronger of a weapon that you get, the stronger the combined effect of the weapon and gem is going to be. Even though you can get the gem in Looking for Raid mode, the heroic raider who has a Heroic Sha-Touched weapon is going to have a much more powerful weapon in the end.
As far as raid balance goes, it is certainly helpful. The one thing we found with how Dragonwrath played out and the transition of Dragonwrath to Dragon Soul is that our traditional model of what a legendary item meant, its power level, wasn't really compatible with a model in which the legendary is at least one person, if not more, in every single raid group is going to have. It was different in Burning Crusade, where we could say "If you have Illidan's Warglaives, you win. You are going to top damage meters, do 20% more damage than anyone who doesn't, but that is okay because you are one guy that got really lucky." It is a very different dynamic when a guild can have twelve Dragonwraths from having farmed them up. Suddenly it affects raid balance, not just class balance. One of the big questions going in to Dragon Soul was how to handle ranged vs melee balance. If you have a raid where every caster has a Dragonwrath, is the melee balanced against the casters with Dragonwrath? That would make the casters without one fall behind. Is the melee balanced against the caster without one, in which case high end guilds where everyone has the weapon won't bring melee. This was not a great place to be. We are still evolving how legendary distribution methods should work.
One thing that we felt was really successful in the Cataclysm legendary experience were the custom quest lines that we offered for people that did the Dragonwrath quest line or the daggers quest line. That was some really cool gameplay, evocative of what players like about the priest and hunter quest lines in Vanilla. That is the kind of thing we can expect to see continued.
Q: Now that the first phase of the legendary questline is raid-wide, does it mean every player will get a legendary weapon in a few patches?
A: Not necessarily. I think the future steps of the legendary chain have yet to be announced, and that is something that players will see as we get there.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the proving grounds game mode and when we will see it? Should we expect something challenging with unique rewards or is it just an innovative way to teach players how to play their class?
A: When you were talking about the things that we wanted to make in Patch 5.0 and didn't, that is one shining example. The Proving Grounds feature was a one player scenario that would give players a chance to learn the basic skills needed for tanking, healing, or doing damage. Proving Grounds for a tank might have an NPC healer that you have to protect from a stream of mobs that are coming in. There are different mobs that those mobs pose, spells that they cast or the ways in which they move. You have to hold agro, move around a lot, control the playing field, and do all the things that a tank would have to do in a fast moving dungeon group. The longer your NPC survives, the better your score will be. At the very high end it would give players who are very competitive a way to say "I am the best tank on the server", through leaderboards that would accompany it.
At the other end of the spectrum, it would give players who aren't as experienced at tanking a chance to learn those skills in a safer environment. World of Warcraft from level one to the max level is a DPS orientated game. Your quests are generally completed by killing things, even if you are a tank or healer spec. You are defeating creatures, looting them, getting them things, and so forth. If you don't do instance runs while leveling, you may reach max level without experience in applying those skills. There is no way to practice how to tank right now, other than the one that comes at the expense of four other people's experiences. You are stumbling through learning how threat works, learning how your buttons work, how the other dynamics of group gameplay work while other people are getting frustrated. That is part of what leads to the long queues as we are waiting for more tanks. It can be a very pressure filled experience and not a lot of people like being in the spotlight in that sense. If they had a chance to practice those skills and gameplay involved before they go in, they might feel more comfortable in doing it.
Q: Can we expect any kind of unique armor sets or rewards for the challenge modes?
A: Certainly. The reward structure for challenge mode players is equivalent to getting gladiator in PvP in terms of how difficult to earn it will be. Your gear is scaled down, so it isn't something that you can come back to a few patches later and get gold medals with no problem. For players who earn gold medals in all of the challenge modes will obtain a class specific set of armor for transmogrification. This armor has unique effects associated with it, aside from looking really over the top and epic. You will really stand out when standing around in Stormwind or Orgrimmar with this armor on. It has build in animations as well. For example, the Shaman armor has giant totem poles on the shoulders. When you cast spells, fire will well up within them. When you do a /laugh, the heads on the totem poles will laugh along with your character. Every set has a few built in hooks like that for players to discover. It is something that players can really take pride in and show off. Everyone who sees someone wearing the armor set will say "Where can I get that?" and "You must be really good at the game to have earned it".
Q: Is there any chance that you will bring back shorter raids like Zul'Aman in future patches.
A: It basically fits the storytelling we are trying to do. The 4.1 patch tried to focus on the evolution of the Zandalari trolls and what was happening there, so it made sense to bring back those old raids. We don't just bring them back; we update them heavily. To a player who does Zul'Gurub today, it is almost is unrecognizable compared to the Zul'Gurub that was a 20 player raid years ago. It is the same thing when you go into Deadmines, Scholomance, or Scarlet Monastery; they are very different zones with different bosses and mechanics. Players enjoy that and we enjoy visiting our classic dungeons and settings, but it is on a case by case basis that depends on the story we are trying to tell in a given patch.
Q: What are the most challenging raid encounters and dungeons in this expansion according to you and why?
A: All of the challenge modes are tuned to be demanding as far as dungeons go. Just finishing them is going to be an accomplishment for many players. With the way the medals are tuned, just getting a Bronze medal in a challenge mode is both a challenge and an accomplishment. Players who get all of the Bronze medals will get a title to show off their accomplishment. Shado-pan Monastery is going to be a tough one for players to go into. That is the enclave of the Shado-pan monks, who are an order of Pandaren that are dedicated to protecting the continent of Pandaria with ancient traditions. The overall feel of that dungeon is very much inspired by some of the cooler moments that we enjoyed in movies like Kill Bill. It has a Hollywood martial arts feel to it, a very cool place overall, but very hard on challenge mode.
On the raid front, in keeping with our traditions the hardest boss is probably the heroic mode of Sha of Fear, our final boss of this patch. Odds are good that it will be hard. The heroic mode was not tested at all on beta servers, so it has surprises that players will have to discover for themselves. There is a whole extra phase that is awaiting players that is not in normal mode, similar to heroic Ragnaros.
Q: A blacklisting feature was added for PvP to remove two battlegrounds from our random battleground queue; do you plan to add a similar feature for the random dungeons system?
A: We don't have any specific plans along those lines in the future, but it may be something we can consider. We obviously look at the dungeons our players run the most and the feedback that players are giving on the dungeons. The first thing we would rather do is improve the experience. If we are consistently hearing players groan when a specific loading screen pops up we would rather figure out what's wrong there and improve it. With battlegrounds it is a little bit different because don't purport to offer the same experience as each other. Some involve vehicles, some don't, some are small, some are large, so it is really hard to compare Battle for Gilneas to Alterac Valley. You are not necessarily looking for each of those experiences when you queue up, so players can decide not to play a large scale battleground today and blacklist Alterac Valley and Isle of Conquest. You could decide you want to play a large scale battleground, so you blacklist CTF maps. With our dungeons we try to offer a relatively consistent experience in terms of the feel and flow of PvE gameplay.
Q: Is there anything else that you want to talk about?
A: We are really excited to see all of these fans come out tonight to celebrate our launch, and even more excited to see everybody get on and dive into the game over the next week or so. It's been a labor of love for the past year and a half or two years. One of the most gratifying moments for us as a designer or anyone in a creative line of work is seeing people get to enjoy what you have produced. We can't wait to see people play the game and I can't wait to get home myself and start leveling.
Ask Mr. Robot Updated
Ask Mr. Robot recently updated for Mists of Pandaria. As you start to gear up for raids this week, make sure you are wearing the most optimal set of gear!
Originally Posted by Blizzard EntertainmentMists of Pandaria Soundtrack
Did a quick check on iTunes, there is nothing from Blizzard Entertainment on there. I wish they would. I'm not about to spend $2k on a Vanilla Collector's Set on Ebay, but I would love to have the soundtrack that was included in that, and the one from Burning Crusade.
For those interested, the Mists of Pandaria Soundtrack is available for digital download on iTunes. Also available are the soundtracks for Cataclysm, Wrath of the Lich King, and Burning Crusade.
Anyone else get goose bumps while listening to the chorus portions in ‘Heart of Pandaria’? (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
Originally Posted by Blizzard EntertainmentWhy isn't there a search function for your mounts tab when there is one for pets, bags, proff thingies?
Enroute for 5.1
Are you aware that the "Traveling Pet Mauler" achieve has STV instead of N. STV and S. STV? It didn't activate from either.
That’s intended. Not working however, is not. We will take a look.
I think Slam and Wild Strike need tweaks like make them off the GCD, I never find a gap to use them in PvP and PvE
Hindering Strikes glyph makes HS attractive in PvP. It might be fine to not use Slam much. WS gets boosted a lot by Bloosurge.
Tab for fun novelty items please? Lots in MoP and are taking up heaps of space. Don't want to delete because I like them!
I think this is part of an overall problem where our inventory feels very 2005.
We need more fun/silly/vanity type stuff - Like learnable Noggenfogger.
We focused a lot on Cooking, Inscription and Arch for MoP. If those changes prove popular, we'll do more.
I thought the Pandaria "cities" had auction houses in them through all of beta, what changed on live?
We thought the Dalaran model worked out well. Good balance between spending time in old and new cities.
WoWDB Addon Data Collection
Thousands of players have been contributing to the data on WoWDB and collecting this data is even more important with Mogu'shan Vaults opening this week, as drop rates are still undetermined there.
If you want to help out, just check the box in the Curse Client options as seen below. When you are playing the addon will gather data and save it. When you are done playing, Curse Client will see the game close and upload the collected data from the addon.
Curse Weekly Roundup
Evan and Lindsay tell us about Star Wars: The Old Republic, the MoP Launch, Call of Duty Zombies, FIFA 13, Minecraft, and a nice Game Forecast for next week.