We got the chance to interview Ion Hazzikostas, World of Warcraft Lead Encounter Designer, and we had our dear Hunter officer Rogerbrown ask him what we wanted to know regarding Patch 5.1 and future patches!
Click "Read More" for all the questions and answers!
Item Upgrade System
The big thing about patch 5.1 was the item upgrades via valor points. What was the thought process behind the implementation of this new system? Was it a way to keep valor points from being negligible after players reached a certain point of gear?
Ion: Partially yes, but its mainly a way to secure that every week your raid is stronger than it was the previous week. In some ways it replaces what we had with the Dragon Soul nerfs overtime, where we made the monsters easier every couple of months. But here, a month from now, just from having 8 more ilvls on your weapon, or your trinkets, everyone in your raid will be a lot stronger. So something that you couldn't beat today, you will be able to in a month from now.
Judging from the feat of strength that you get when you first kill an endboss of each raid instance, you are actually going to implement the same nerfs every month as you did in Dragon Soul, right?
Ion: The hooks for that are in place, but we actually haven't 100% decided whether or not we are going ahead to do that yet. We are keeping an eye on player progression and right now i think players of all levels haven't hit any brick walls. Usually we think about using the nerf when people start to really get stuck and the progression seems pretty good right now. Those feat of strengths though, will NOT be available once patch 5.2 comes out, regardless.
Even thought I believe that this new system is a good addition into character progression, there are currently a couple of concerns that I would like to express. In order to fully upgrade a complete set of gear, you need a total of 22500 valor points, which translates into 22.5 weeks of capping valor points. Even if you were 'prepared' before 5.1 went live and had 3000 valor points banked, you still need almost 5 months nonstop capping your valor points. Do you think that this is a bit excessive, or was it intended to be that hard to maximize your gear?
Ion: It is intended to be a progression that you are not likely to really finish, so that you always have more room to grow. Our intent is that when you enter the 5.2 tier raid zones that the gear that you get from there is going to replace your upgraded current gear. So if you miss some weeks of valor right now, as soon as you get your 5.2 gear it doesn't really matter. It is just a short term benefit to getting that. We are also pretty comfortable with the amount of valor that you get, while continuing to look at the sources of valor and adjusting those. For example, the recent change we made to the valor points that you gain per kill of a raid boss from 25 to 40, means that you will get 640 valor points per week just by clearing the zones every week.
This results in some dilemmas that players have to face. Should they spend their valor points buying valor gear from reputation quartermasters / to upgrade their normal mode gear when they might replace it with the heroic version of it, or save it to upgrade their future heroic loots? Are these dilemmas intended to be a player choice, or could we see a similar system to the pvp one, where you can keep the upgrades of your weapons when you exchange the tier 1 versions for the tier 2 ones?
Ion: Some of that is just a cork of how the pvp items work, and that you are using your old weapon as a currency to buy the new one, so we can transfer the upgrade. It is a very good point though, this is our first attempt at this system, and we are going to continue to work on it and polish it and improve it in the future. And definitely one of the things that we discuss is that psychological tension between feeling like you want to spend your points to something that is not going to be replaced, versus wanting to actually use them, to actually use them to get an upgrade right now, and it doesn't feel good. Because you can easily fall into something that feels like a trap, if you waste your valor points and have no way to get them back. So that's something that we talk about, and we may have a solution for it in the future.
Another issue is the fact that the upgraded versions of the heroic gear from this tier are mostly going to be 517 ilvl. How will this impact the ilvl of items of the next tier? Won't we run into an issue that wasn't really there in the past, with the heroic gear from previous content being stronger than the normal gear of the new content? Won't that affect the sense of character progression that you are aiming for?
Ion: It is a problem, and that's something that we are talking about actively. We don't have final numbers to announce, but i think the three principals that are kind of guiding us here are:
First of, feeling upgrades and feeling like you are getting something when you go into the new tiers is important. Even if you are ultimately a heroic raider, and you are going to focus on the heroic modes of the next tier, it just doesn't feel really good, if your entire first week of clearing a normal mode, you are disenchanting everything that drops because it's not an upgrade.
Second, it actually makes it much harder for us to actually tune challenging fights, because if you already have all of the normal mode gear effectively coming in on day one, then you already have all of the gear anyone can ever get to start working on the heroics. Versus being undergeared, which is what makes early heroic progression interesting. When Method fights a boss, you are doing it will less gear than a number 1000 guild is going to have when they fight it 4-6 weeks later, and that makes it easier for them, and a greater challenge for you and that works our really well. So if all the gear is flat, we lose that.
But in the same time, we also want to make sure that the time people are investing right now doesn't feel wasted. That people don't get the sense of all this work they did with earning their valor points, upgrading their gear, none of it matters because as soon as the new raid opens, everyone just has the new gear anyway, so what was the point of any of it. And there isn't necessarily a clear answer but we are talking about it and exploring options, but totally agree that those are valid points.
How does the upgrading system work on the Asian servers? From what I have seen their items are upgradable not 2, but 4 times. Won't this result in a problem while tuning the bosses of the next content?
Ion: The way it works in Asia, we actually use the upgrade system to create the distinction between 10 player and 25 player that we previously announced for 5.1. So in Korea, Taiwan and China, when you kill a boss in 25 player mode, it drops an item that is already 2/4. So instead of 496, it drops as 504 but can be upgraded 2 more times, so effectively they are 8 ilvls higher but you are still only upgrading any item twice. The other thing that is changed in 5.1, is actually that all 25 player bosses have 8% more health and do 8% more damage, than they do in the US or Europe. It is a bit more like the Wrath of the Lich King system, where 25man is just harder and drops higher item level loot but in theory doing 25 player with 25 player loot in Asia should be the same as doing 25 with 25 loot in Europe/US.
Increasing the Valor points gained from raid bosses from 25 to 40 was a very welcome change, especially combined with the 50% increased valor points on your characters after reaching the weekly cap with one. Also we saw that you implemented the account bound double reputation items for all the MoP factions. All of these changes are mostly helping the players who have multiple characters. Will you keep going into that direction to 'ease their pain'?
Ion: Yes, absolutely, I think that has been one of the underlying tensions of a lot of the systems we have introduced in MoP. We were trying to create tons of new content and to make sure that players had things to do that were interesting to fill their time over the course of a week but obviously that also means that if you are trying to do those very same things on 2,3,4 characters at the same time, there are just aren't going to be enough hours in the week, it becomes very stressful. So we want to make sure that the people who are just focused on their main character still have enough to do, but for those who have multiple alts have an easier way of keeping their alts caught up with their mains.
Could we possibly see something similar happen with the lesser charms of good fortune?
Ion: Potentially yes, we are looking at the different progression systems that are in the game and we have obviously done things for valor, for reputation, and we are going to keep looking at the other different ones and making adjustments.
We saw the introduction of a new daily quest hub in patch 5.1, the Dominance Offensive. It seems that daily quests are playing a bigger role in the story telling part of Mists of Pandaria. Should we expect more daily hubs in the near future, or will it be a long time until the next wave of dailies?
Ion: Specifically for 5.1, it is a progression, with more quests and more one time sort of epic quests that unlock as you increase your reputation, and that's how the story is primarily advanced. There aren't entire extra hubs or new sources of dailies that are going to be released before the next patch. We certainly are happy with using daily quests as a way of progressing the story and getting players involved with the conflict between the factions, some of the major lore characters, like Garosh from the horde side, Varian on the alliance side, and so forth.
Dailies are pretty much the only dependable source of lesser charms of good fortune. We will soon reach a point where most people will be done with the reputation gains with all the factions, and the only reason for them to do dailies will be for the lesser charms. Do you intend to make it easier for the players to get these charms, maybe make them obtainable from some other sources, so that players don't start 'hating' dailies, because they will feel forced to do them?
Ion: Right now I think that the intent is to keep the lesser charms associated with dailies and you can pick out of the plethora of dailies that there are out there, the ones that interest you the most, or that are quickest, whatever your personal preference is. People who are exalted with all reputations right now probably have well over 1000 lesser charms still just stockpiled in their bags, so that should last them for a while. The person who really is only doing enough quests each week to just get their 3 bonus rolls, probably still has long ways to go in the reputations.
I got the chance to try out the new brawler's guild and it reminded me of the legendary hunter questline back in vanilla. We have hardly ever seen such challenging 1man pve bosses outside of legendary questlines. Is that the experience that you were aiming to provide to the players who didn't have the chance to do any legendary questline in the past?
Ion: A little bit of that, yes, like you said, I think there is room to create fun 1 on 1 pve gameplay and we just haven't done it for a long time in the game. We had to create a system with rules to make sure that players from outside couldn't help you as was often the case back at the hunter quests back in vanilla, to make sure it stayed fair and balanced. And ultimately it is just a fun thing to do as a test of skill people have fun either doing it or just watching other people fight bosses they haven't gotten a chance to see yet.
Do you see the brawler's guild as a way of pure entertainment or more of a way to challenge a player's skill, and by doing so, make them learn to be better players?
Ion: A bit of both. Offering ways for players to learn and prove on their own is something that we are continuing to work on. One feature that we have discussed a couple of times in the past that we are still trying to get for a future patch is something similar. It's called the proving ground system, which is more of a single player scenario type setting, which offers skill tests and skill challenges that you can both use to learn your classes abilities, but also at the high end to try to get a really high score, get high on the leaderboards, that kind of thing.
Should we expect new, even more challenging, bosses to be available at the brawler's guild in future patches?
Ion: It's a system that we can continue to expand and just add new bosses, new ranks too in the future if we want, but we are happy with how it has worked so far.
The gating system that was used this tier felt good, especially with the amount of bosses that were released. There was a change in the last week before the release of Heart of Fear, when you decided to postpone the release of Terrace of Endless Springs for another 2 weeks. Why was that?
Ion: Ultimately, i think as with most things, whenever possible, we prefer to plan things out in advance, let our players know exactly what to expect and predict, but in the end we have and we want the freedom to make changes at the last minute when we think that it is going to be better for the playerbase. That was just one of the things that we originally planned to release all 10 of them at once, and then realised about a week before, looking at it, that it would probably just work out better for everybody to break those two up. It would be nice to give advance notice, but we felt like the surprise was worth what was ultimately going to be a better system.
When bosses are hotfixed, it would be nice if there is some sort of announcement for it, because for example on Sha of Fear, it was hotfixed and we didn't know about it instantly. Will you be more vocal about hotfixes in the future?
Ion: I completely agree. We have the power and ability to make changes on the fly that are going to affect the players instantly, and it is an important thing for players to know when those changes are made to the game. I am actually working on and planning on a future blog that will go on the official wow site, specifically about some of our philosophies in regards to tuning and wow hotfixes for raids in particular. But in the case of Sha of Fear, some of that was just the unfortunate timing, since it was a holiday weekend in the US and we were kinda scrumbling to fix things and make adjustments as needed, thus getting that information out there globally was more difficult to do on short notice than it otherwise might have been, but hopefully it wasn't too inconvenient.
Any indication how long of a break we have until the next raid instance(s) are released?
Ion: It will be soon. It is always 'soon' (blizzard soon). We will be talking about and starting to announce information about the next patch in the near future and then the process kinda goes from there, PTR and all that, you are familiar with it.
I hope it is not too soon!
Ion: I know, and that's something that we are aware of too, you know with raids in particular there is such a thing as releasing too much content too quickly, it's nice to have a break, to give a chance for other guilds to catch up and complete the content but also to be able to rest, farm the zone, and get ready for the next challenge that is coming up.
Well thanks a lot for this interview. I must say that on a personal level, I have thoroughly enjoyed Mists of Pandaria so far and tier 14 is probably my favourite of them all so far.
Ion: Awesome, that is really great to hear. Now we just have to work on topping ourselves and improve going forward!