buffed: Patch 5.2 takes us to the Isle of Thunder which players can unlock over time. Could you walk us through how that unlocking process works? How can players contribute and how do you make sure that servers with a faction imbalance are not at a disadvantage?
WoW Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak [Quelle: Blizzard Entertainment] Dave Kosak: That's actually something we talked about quite a bit when we were working on the system. Your progression is faction based - the Alliance has one progression and the Horde has another progression - and it's based on participation. So whenever you complete at least one daily quest on the island you'll see a buff on your character that shows that you have completed a daily quest. And that means you have contributed to the war effort for the day. I believe on the first day everybody was on 100% and now it should have kind of split up based on how active servers are. But it's not based on population, it's really based on participation. So if your faction is badly outnumbered on the server but you guys are more dedicated to the island, you might actually have an advantage over the larger faction.
buffed: That sounds as if I just have to do one quest - so it doesn't matter how many quests I do in total, when I did one I contributed for that day?
buffed: Roughly how long would you expect it to take until the isle is fully unlocked on an average server?
Kosak: I think the average server is probably going to need about six weeks. Some servers will be able to do it a bit sooner, some servers will finish it a little bit later, but it's not going to take more than a few weeks. We definitely made sure that even on servers where the players aren't necessarily very active or aren't really engaged with dailies the island will eventually unlock.
buffed: Patch 5.2 really puts Jaina and Lor'themar in the spotlight. What are Garrosh and Varian up to in the meantime?
Kosak: We saw a lot of what they're up to in patch 5.1. We will catch up with them again in the next patch. Sort of the overall theme for Alliance and Horde is that the Alliance is really forming together into a solid group while the Horde is gradually unraveling. We will see more of that in the coming patches.
buffed: Daily quests are an important part of the endgame design for Mists of Pandaria and have also generated some heated discussions since the expansion launched. We were wondering - what's the design approach for daily quests? Because ultimately their gameplay is very repetitive. How do you go about designing new daily quest hubs and try to make them feel and play differently compared to previous ones?
Kosak: I'll talk about the big philosophy first. Especially with Cataclysm we found that we had a lot of great content for certain types of players. Especially if you were in a guild or in an organized group there was lots of great dungeon and raid content. If you liked to play solo or just wanted to do solo content with your max level character there really weren't a lot of options. In fact that's why most people rolled alts if they kept playing at all. So we wanted to have more content for your character to do. So with Mists of Pandaria we definitely provided lots and lots and lots of things for your character to do - no matter what your group size or playing preference is. We added a lot of solo content with the daily quests. Our intention with that design was never for the dailies to feel mandatory. And that's what I think most of the complaints came from gameplay-wise. Players felt obliged to do them. That wasn't our design intent, but they really did feel that way. We tried to design around it and I don't think we did a good job with 5.0 because some of the rewards were really worthwhile and players felt that in order to keep up with raiding they had to do dailies - every day. And that's a lot of dailies! We provided tons of content to last a long time and certainly didn't intend for people to feel like they had to do every daily every day. So we are looking at that very closely going forward.
In patch 5.2 you'll notice that the rewards for the factions that have daily quests associated with them are mostly flavor. You get tabards, banners and some mounts - but nothing that you really need for the raid. The player power gear is acquired via the Shado-Pan faction and the way you get reputation with that is the actual raid itself. I think that will help making daily quests feel a little bit more like optional content which is closer to our original design intent.
As for the other part of your question - how do we make sure daily quests don't feel repetitive - that's something we've always been playing with. We had a lot of randomization with the dailies. We had some daily quests with companions, we had dailies that send you to a different point of interest every day - so we experimented with all kinds of things with 5.0 and some of them were more successful than others. One thing we're doing in 5.2 - and I love how it feels - is that there's so much more to do on the island than just daily quests. There are summonable bosses that you can get a group for, there are rare spawns all over the island, there are hidden treasure chests, there are keys for the treasure vault run you can find, there are new Lorewalker objects, there are Zandalari journals that drop ... there are a lot of things going on around you. It just feels like the island is really alive - and the daily quests are just one part of what's going on there. I really like that feeling. It gives you a sense of adventure. Whenever you go to the island you have no idea what's going to happen.
buffed: Are there any other daily quest design ideas we can look forward to in future patches?
Kosak: Nothing I want to talk about yet. There are a couple of things I hope we get to experiment with in patch 5.3 that we then can carry forward to other expansions. It really is an ongoing learning process of how to do really good max level content that's compelling and a lot of fun. One thing I'll tell you is that we really liked how the farm played out. We thought that was a really fun feature to make that faction stand out and to give you something to interact with every day. We really liked how the farm felt. So we might see more of that in the future. Probably not with 5.3, but we're happy with how successful it was.
buffed: You mentioned the Trove of the Thunder King scenario. That one caused some confusion when the patch went live as to how often players could enter it. We now know that players supposedly get to go once per week and have a small chance to enter it a second time. Could you explain how the acquisition of the keys works and where that small chance for a second visit comes from?
Kosak: Let's see. I think there are several ways to get keys - from the loot satchel for the daily quests, from mobs around the island and from rare spawns. The chance of finding a key in your satchel or off a rare spawn is very, very low. But there's a relatively high chance of receiving it from normal spawns and treasure chests. But the drop there has the condition that you haven't already gotten it this week. So the way it should play out is: Just by participating in dailies and by killing stuff on the island you will probably find one key fairly soon. And then if you're really engaged with the island, are killing a lot of rares and doing other stuff ... you might get another key. So if it works out - we're watching players and seeing how many people are hitting the treasure room - everybody should get one treasure run a week and possibly more.
buffed: Speaking of scenarios - apart from the raid instance patch 5.2 introduces no new instanced group content, all new scenarios are solo scenarios. At the same time there's a lot of new outdoor group content. Is that a general direction you want to take with the game - putting more group content out into the world?
Kosak: Now that we have raidfinder we feel that that kind of fulfills the role of something we did in previous expansions where we would try to release another couple of dungeons every now and then with the patches so that players could catch up with their gear. And with looking for raid we have a way for you to catch up, so we would like to spend that development time on other really interesting things, like putting bosses in the outdoor world. One thing we want to continue doing is to encourage players to group up. We put so many things into the game to make it easy to find a group with raidfinder or dungeonfinder that you get a lot less spontaneous groups out in the world. We didn't like that trend, so we're giving players a lot of group content out there. The Isle of Giants, the island filled with dinosaurs, is all group content - players are forming into parties to hunt dinosaurs together. And the island has rare bosses that require a group, which is bringing people together. We're trying to do more of that because we think that social aspect of the game is very, very important.
buffed: That brings us to something a lot of our readers were wondering about. Are you planning any additional five-man dungeons for the remainder of Mists of Pandaria?
Kosak: That's not the plan right now. We have more scenarios on the way and you'll be able to continue using raidfinder with the previous raids - but at this time we are not thinking of doing any five-man dungeons.
buffed: Going back to scenarios. You utilize those as a mechanism for storytelling with solo scenarios in patch 5.2. Are we going to see more of that in the future?
Kosak: We've definitely been experimenting with scenarios since 5.0 launched and we have a lot of feedback on what we think are good scenarios and what are bad scenarios, on what's working and what isn't. In patch 5.2 we tried using the scenario technology to do a few solo scenarios just to see how that works. I really like it from the point of view that you have a big event when you unlock new content on the island. One reason we did those scenarios is to help players who are missing out on the island right now, because they can't play World of Warcraft for a few weeks. When they join us again a lot of the island might already be unlocked. But we still want them to feel as though they got to participate in that. So those events let you catch up and see all the things your faction did to unlock the next part of the island. You can really see the war effort advancing until you are caught up with everybody else. It was a neat way to make sure nobody missed out the same way some people missed out on the Isle of Quel'Danas or on the opening of Ahn'Qiraj. But I don't think we would want to do a whole lot more single player scenarios. I think we will save them for very special events or very special skill challenges because we like group content and getting people together. So that's basically where we are with scenarios.
Two of the new scenarios in the patch are actually tuned to be very difficult for solo players. One of them is the Warlock scenario - and I've heard some feedback already that Warlocks are surprised how difficult it is to get the green fire. We definitely don't make it easy. That last fight is a tough one. And the other one is part of the legendary quest. Wrathion will have a legendary scenario for you to do in 5.2 that really tests your skill as either tank, healer or dps. It's a real challenge. If you've been only sort of half-playing your class in LFR you will really have to step up in order to complete this one.
buffed: We've now seen repeatable scenarios for smaller groups and one-time scenarios as single player content. Are there other design approaches for scenarios you'd like to try out in the future? When scenarios were first announced there were mentions of possible 40-man scenarios.
Kosak: Yeah, we still love that idea. We haven't really put one together yet to see if it works. We have the technology to do more with scenarios than we're doing. We have a lot of three-player scenarios ingame and a few solo scenarios. There are other options we haven't really explored yet. We don't quite have the design yet for the 40-man one, but we might play with that at some point.
I think what we really want to do right now is looking at the existing scenarios. Some of them are too long and we want to make sure all our future scenarios are kind of short and bite-sized chunks of content - that worked out great. And we also want to make sure they reward properly. I think they didn't reward very well at launch and so there wasn't much of an incentive to run them. I think we're going to do some challenge or heroic scenarios. Very challenging scenarios for groups of three players with pretty good rewards. And I think there are some other things we can do with scenarios in terms of how difficult they are and how they are rewarded. Just to make sure they're a little more exciting. It's a big experiment. One of the things I love about World of Warcraft is that we can throw out these ideas, play with them and see how people play with them and then adjust.
buffed: One thing we were a bit surprised about in patch 5.2 was that there was no continuation of the Highking storyline for Varian. Will you keep pursuing that story and will it continue to play out in scenarios?
Kosak: Another chapter is planned for 5.3, so we get to catch up with the king. I don't how many we will get to implement ultimately. What we always wrestle with is that we absolutely have to make sure to have good gameplay in every scenario we do, but we like to advance the story whenever we can. And we're also really committed to shipping out these patches faster. We really want to have content roll out regularly. We've done pretty good so far - patch 5.1 came out two months after release, and patch 5.2 just took slightly longer than two months. So while we've done a great job with the pace of the content what we struggle with is that we have to decide which stories we are going to tell, which content has the best gameplay and what we can do in that timeframe of two months. So we can't tell every story we'd like to tell and really have to pick and choose.
buffed: Speaking of stories to tell - despite him being a rather prominent figure in the book Tides of War, Baine has been absent from the recent in-game developments within the Horde. Where is he currently, and are we going to see more from him?
Kosak: One of the things we struggle with is that we have so many characters. A lot of people have asked about Sylvanas as well. It's hard for us to develop content with really good and compelling gameplay around all of the leaders at every point along the line. So we have to pick and choose our moments. We definitely haven't seen much from Baine yet. He had a great moment in 5.1 when Garrosh was going to torture a prisoner. So he's there, keeping an eye on Garrosh. We will see a little more of him in 5.3.
buffed: So, what is Sylvanas doing? (laughs)
Kosak: Sylvanas is a little trickier because she's across the sea. I hope we'll have some time to implement good content to catch up with her. If she had her way, this would be a wonderful opportunity to finally kick those Kor'kron guards out of Undercity and get her city back under her own control. We'll hopefully have some time to implement some stories to catch up with Sylvanas as well, but I can't guarantee it.
buffed: If Mists of Pandaria follows the endgame progression of Cataclysm, we would be expecting the next raid tier to be the final one. But given the very timely release of patches it seems as if the next raid tier isn't too far away. So, will we be fighting Garrosh in patch 5.3 or 5.4 already? Is there anything you can tell us about the remaining patches and the patch structure for the remainder of Mists of Pandaria?
Kosak: I do hate to talk about future patches, but I will say that we're alternating the team to get the patches out faster. We have different specialists working on different patches, so that we can have a big raid tier every even numbered patch and other content for every odd numbered patch. That's what we did with 5.1 and 5.2 - and you can probably expect that pattern to continue with 5.3 and 5.4.
buffed: In some other recent interviews you spoke about the conflict between Alliance and Horde returning to Azeroth now that we've taken care of the biggest threats in Pandaria. Is that going to influence the landscape? Are we going to see new changes to some of the zones in Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms?
Kosak: We would be careful not to change the landscape too much, because then we would be wrecking our old content. We certainly don't want to blow up the Eastern Kingdoms and then have to re-quest the whole thing that we just have re-quested for Cataclysm. So I wouldn't expect dramatic changes because of this. However, we do want to reflect that the war is kind of going global. So we will get some hints of that in future patches.
buffed: One of the funny tidbits on the Isle of Thunder is the dinosaur Kroshik and players being able to kind of follow his whole life-cycle from egg to tragic ending. Is there a special story behind him either ingame or as to why he was put into the game? What can you tell us about Kroshik?
Kosak: Sometimes ideas start with great gameplay. And one of our designers, Paul Kubit, started experimenting with turning the player into a Saurok and giving you this awesome leap ability. It was so much fun that we decided to have a whole series of quests where you would infiltrate the Saurok and see what that's like from the inside. And that allowed us to create this mythology of this dinosaur that they worship and grow and ultimately devour to take his power. We just thought this would be a fun spin on the Saurok because we actually turn you into one of them - so you could see what a Saurok religion might look like. Other than that I think for the most part his story is in the game, so if you're a Saurok you should definitely gossip with the other Saurok - especially with the dinosaur priests - and you will get to see how his story works.
buffed: Since the launch of Mists of Pandaria we progressively learned more about Pandaria - and sometimes found out later on that we weren't told the whole truth - as with the origin of the Sha. Which fit really well with the theme of Horde and Alliance basically knowing nothing about the continent. But the question is: Do we now have the full picture or are there still mysteries and secrets to be revealed about Pandaria?
Kosak: Well, let's see. I would say that most of the full picture is there with patch 5.2. There is a whole new set of Lorewalker objects on the island. You can learn more about the backstory for the Zandalari, you can learn more about the Thunder King himself and about the Mogu. So you get to learn more about the origins and the original battles that happened in Pandaria between the Titans and the Old Gods. So a lot of that lore is in 5.2 and helps to put a lot of pieces together. The story that we haven't quite fully told yet is the story of the last Pandaren emperor. So players will get to run across him eventually in the game. He's the one who cloaked the continent in mists - and perhaps we will learn why the mists fell at this particular time.
But we also have kind of an e-book, an animated book, that we're working on and that we'll be rolling out sometime in the next couple of months. That will tell more backstory of Pandaria for people who are really interested in the lore. I'm really excited about it, the animation looks great. And again, the focus is on the last emperor of Pandaria, Shaohao. You can read about him now and you can hear a story from Lorewalker Cho, but we'll get to see more of him.
buffed: The story around the Throne of Thunder seems like a bit of a closure for the Zandalari storyline. But we still don't know who Zul is. Are we going to see more of the Zandalari or Zul in-game or will that be part of the upcoming Vol'jin novel?
Kosak: Vol'jin will definitely run across the Zandalari in the novel. The events in the novel kind of take place after patch 5.1 and before patch 5.3. And the Zandalari story is far from complete. You don't encounter Zul in 5.2 and you don't encounter King Rastakhan who is still sitting on his throne at Zandalar even as Zandalar sinks into the sea. So you're going to learn a little more about their backstory, but it won't be finished in patch 5.2.
buffed: Thank you for your time!