WoW: patch 5.1, remodelling old characters, item upgrades via valor - talking to Ghostcrawler
buffed: With patch 5.0.4 you brought the Pandaria talent system to the live realms -- probably one of the biggest class changes for WoW so far. What kind of feedback have you gotten now that not only beta testers but all players can actually use the system?
Greg Street: The feedback I've seen so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I think I saw a poll this morning that said 80 percent of the participants like the change. I know there are players out there who were kind of shocked since they haven't been following the news really closely. They logged in and were like "oh my gosh, everything is different". They're going through the experience that some of the beta players went through several months ago. But my suspicion is that they'll realize the strength of the new system once they give it a try and play with it a little bit.
buffed: At least they have some time to get used to it before Mists of Pandaria launches.
Street: When the patch first got out I went online with some of my friends and we were running a dungeon within like five or ten minutes -- which is amazing. Usually for a World of Warcraft patch you would have to spend an hour going through all your talents and setting up your action bars. I knew we made the right decision when we were able to jump in the game and start playing that quickly.
buffed: We already saw a talent system overhaul with Cataclysm -- which appears like a minor one compared to the Pandaria changes but which was already a big step back then. Is the class design team happy with where classes and talents are at right now, or are you already talking about further changes?
Street: I think we're pretty happy with this talent system. We had considered using this talent system for Cataclysm, but we were scared of such a big change. We gave the old system one more try -- and we definitely improved it, but we still thought it wasn't as good as it could be. We really like the new system and I think it's the one we're going to keep around for a while. Having said that, there are some individual talents that maybe aren't as good as they could be. There are going to be some situations where players say "I really don't feel like I have a choice". And those are the things that we can address individually. But we're really happy with the system as a whole.
buffed: The patch is live now, but the beta is still running. Are there some bigger changes still to come for a launch day patch or would we see only minor updates?
Street: It's really just minor adjustments at this point as we find bugs or little ways to improve the game. But there shouldn't be any big changes for players in beta.
buffed: There's also feedback from players saying the class changes are too massive and change the game too drastically. What do you think about that?
Street: World of Warcraft is eight years old now and we always have these hard decisions between "should we keep what's familiar or should we innovate". We have players who say "I'm bored and need something new, why don't you change up my class so I'm excited again" and then we have players who say "I really like the game, don't change it." So we try to approach every decision carefully. We know how many players we're affecting with these decisions, so we don't take them lightly.
buffed: The talent trees from classic WoW would probably almost feel scary at this point.
Street: Yeah, those talent trees were really overwhelming. We always -- also a lot in Cataclysm -- heard from players that wanted to come back and were excited about the expansion … but relearning their class again just turned them off, and we risk losing them as players. We really need to make sure that whenever players come back to the game they can get right back into it with only a little bit of relearning.
buffed: There's also still feedback from players who say the talent system has been dumbed down and that its former complexity is gone. What would you say to those players?
Street: We really believe in the principle of "simple to learn, hard to master" -- by which we mean that we like the rules to be pretty easy to understand and then have a lot of depth behind the scenes and a lot of ways for players to consider "Oh, I can use this talent in this situation and this ability here". So they can explore that and demonstrate mastery of their class in that way. We don't think it's the right design to have very complicated rules that players struggle to understand. And the truth is that most of our players didn't experiment a lot with the talent trees anyway. They would just go online to check or ask their friends which talents they should choose. So it was hard to learn and easy to master which is kind of the worst game design to have.
buffed: I've already seen comments from players that checked up on guides after 5.0.4 came out and used exactly the talents they were told to use.
Street: It totally makes sense to me that players want the comfort of a guide -- that's what they've been used to for years. It's very normal, particularly if they haven't been paying close attention to the news coming out of beta. I've seen some of those sites say "You know what, you can pick whatever you want. Just pick the talent or the glyph that fits your personal playstyle the most". I think as time goes on you'll see more of that. Players will run a dungeon and say "I want to try out a different ability and don't think I'll hurt my character by doing that". So I think once they become more comfortable with it they'll experiment a bit more. The feature is really designed to encourage that.
buffed: The most important question in terms of Pandaria class balance -- especially after we saw the intro cinematic -- probably is: How overpowered are Monks?
Street: (laughs) I think after our Deathknight experience players are expecting Monks to be overpowered. And we definitely don't want them to be weak -- it would be sad for someone who's excited about rolling a Monk to find out the class isn't really good. We tried to make them feel very fresh and different by giving them some different abilities and some different mechanics to use. Hopefully that will be enough to capture player's interest without them having to be overpowered.
buffed: I'm sure there'll be plenty of interest in Monks. But players probably hope balancing them out won't take as long as it did for Deathknights.
Street: We are so much better at balancing the game than we used to be. We like to say that players would be amused and horrified to see the way we used to balance the game back in the Burning Crusade era. We're much more sophisticated now and have a lot of designers whose primary job is balance. We have a lot of tools to measure what players are doing online and test that internally. We've come a long way there.
buffed: An often discussed topic in terms of class balance after the launch of Cataclysm was the frequent hotfixing. If I remember correctly the developers said they wouldn't want to repeat such a rapid hotfix cycle. But at the same time -- if something needs to be fixed, it needs to be fixed. What's your approach for that with Mists of Pandaria?
Street: Hotfixes are definitely a last resort for us. There are going to be some. We've done some already and I've made a post last night on the US forums mentioning some of these. Our goal is to not do huge, major changes. We don't want to change the way a spell or ability works. We don't want to change how it's used. We just want to tweak numbers up and down. If we find that a class is doing too much damage or too little damage we will adjust it that way. But we won't say "Hey, that ability that you had -- it doesn't work anymore".
buffed: We learned that the Theramore scenario will be available during the week prior to MoP's launch. Some of our readers were wondering whether there would be additional content -- quests or events -- to go along with that as pre event for the expansion.
Street: The Theramore scenario is really our content leading up to the launch. And the launch isn't that far away at this point. We don't have a big Scourge invasion type event this time. We originally talked about maybe doing some type of fleet battle, but it was so ambitious that we worried it would actually cut into our development time of Mists of Pandaria. At the end of the day we figured players would rather have an awesome expansion that lasts them a year or two than a launch event that would only last a couple of weeks.
buffed: With Theramore we'll at least have something to talk about when we move to Pandaria.
Street: There's definitely going to be more of a Horde vs. Alliance presence as the patches go on. Our first major patch will have a lot of Horde vs. Alliance combat.
buffed: We already learned that the fleets are landing at the coast of Krasarang and … I think Jade Forest as well?
buffed: When that happens -- will the zones change permanently or will this be done through phasing so that players who come to Pandaria after those patches still get to experience the original zones?
Street: Right now we're leaning towards the phasing solution because of the reasons you mentioned. We want to preserve the story for players who just arrived on Pandaria. We understand phasing carries risks with it and can make it harder to group up with your friends. But we like the idea that the landscape changes over time rather than just with the flip of a switch.
buffed: Let's talk about daily quests, since they are a huge part of Mists of Pandaria's endgame. I've seen some feedback on the beta forums -- that I agree with from my own beta experience -- saying that the Golden Lotus is a rather brutal reputation grind. There's not much reputation gain per day and that faction is a prerequisite for the Shado-Pan and the August Celestials. Are you happy with the state of factions right now or are there any changes planned?
Street: We're pretty happy with it. I think part of the challenge is that many of the players in beta have not reached level 90 yet and haven't been able to start on those daily quests. I also think daily quests carry a bad memory for a lot of players from earlier attempts where they weren't very interesting. But the Golden Lotus is so cool and so sophisticated that it feels like a whole additional zone. You can think of it as a max level zone. You go into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and even though your character is level 90 you have even more quests to do. It's really varied every day -- the Mogu that you fight pop up in a different location in the Vale. There are some really major story quests that happen periodically. When you reach honored and revered you have to go do a special series of quests and the whole thing comes to a hopefully satisfying conclusion when you reach exalted. It's not just "kill 6 Mogu today and also kill 6 Mogu the next day". It changes a lot, there are some cool rewards -- I think players are going to enjoy it a lot more than they expect.
buffed: You announced the removal of head enchants for Mists of Pandaria because you didn't want players to feel forced to grind certain factions for character power. But now valor point rewards are tied to factions and two of those are only accessible after gaining enough reputation with the Golden Lotus. Doesn't this contradict the head enchant approach as progress oriented players might again feel forced to farm reputation with specific factions?
Street: We felt that the problem with the head enchants was that there was no alternative. That was *the* head enchant for your character and there was only one way to get it. We expect a lot of players will want to do those factions because we think the content is fun and the rewards are cool -- but there are alternatives to those rewards. You don't need to get the helmet from the Shado-Pan, you can get a helmet through raiding or PvP or crafting instead. For players who want content we've got lots and lots of content, but we're trying to keep it to where players don't feel like everything in the game is mandatory for them.
buffed: While there is a lot of randomness and variation to the new daily quests -- players will eventually see and complete them over and over again. Are you going to introduce new daily quest factions or hubs with patches?
Street: Absolutely. The very first major patch will have new hubs and new daily quests centered around the Horde vs. Alliance conflict.
buffed: Will that include a new faction or will those quests come from, for example, the Hozen and the Jinyu?
Street: We're still talking about that. Usually we add a new faction because that way players can start at friendly and move to honored and revered. It's not much of an experience if they're already revered with the faction.
buffed: Patch 5.1 is supposed to introduce the "item upgrades via valor point" system. Could you expand on how that's going to work?
Street: This could change -- but yes, our plan for now is to introduce that in 5.1. We decided to hold it back because in 5.0 players will go through gear very quickly. They upgrade their gear really rapidly. So we think 5.1 is a better time to introduce that feature when they can take the best items they have. The way it'll work is you spend valor on an item to upgrade its item level. Most of the items will probably let you upgrade their item level twice. For example: If you have a sword you could upgrade it 13 item levels and then 13 more item levels -- then your sword is the maximum item level that you can upgrade it to. But you could do that with every piece of gear you have. And if you wanted to have a healing set and a dps set you could work on upgrading both of those sets.
buffed: Could this system replace valor loot in the long term?
Street: Probably. If we have additional valor loot it would be more of a catch up mechanism for the second wave of alts or characters to come through.
buffed: So it's somewhat similar to reforging, but you're changing all attributes instead of just one?
Street: Exactly. The UI even looks a little bit like reforging at the moment.
buffed: Let's talk about scenarios. I think the original announcement was that scenarios would be designed for up to 25 players. But all current scenarios are three player ones. Will we see scenarios for larger groups in the future or are scenarios always going to be three player content?
Street: We still like the idea of having some scenarios that are much larger. It just worked out that the ones we developed for launch all felt like they would make more sense for three players. If we did larger ones we'd want them to be much more epic -- maybe larger maps, maybe letting the group split up into smaller parties.
buffed: That would be interesting.
Street: Yeah, I hope we can pull it off. We don't have anything yet that we can talk about, but we have big plans.
buffed: It probably is not that easy to get the idea across that you don't need healers and tanks for scenarios. We've seen a few discussions where players said "Oh, you don't need a healer? Then I won't be able to go".
Street: I actually really like that about scenarios. When you jump into a scenario with, let's say, two dps and a tank -- there's no healer. So all of a sudden you start to use abilities that you don't normally use. If you have a self heal or a defensive button, that becomes a lot more important when there's not someone there throwing heals on you all the time. It's kind of fun because it's not what players are used to.
buffed: Going back to the current state of the game with patch 5.0.4 -- we've seen some feedback that the spellbook is somewhat hard to use right now with active and passive abilities in one tab. Are you planning to clean up the spellbook a bit?
Street: We went back and forth on whether the abilities should be in alphabetical order or whether we should have the actives and then the passives -- which is what we ended up with. I can totally appreciate that players may not like that and want a different system. We might consider some options there to let players decide in what order they are or how they're filtered.
buffed: Since we only have time for one more question we're going to ask about something that a lot of our readers would like to hear more about. Are there any news on the remodelling of the older character models?
Street: It is definitely something we want to do. It is something the artists are actively working on. It takes a long time and we have to be very careful about it because we don't want players to log in and say "wait, this doesn't look like my character anymore, you totally changed it". We know players will freak out if characters look too different. So we're trying to capture the feel and the look of the Warcraft characters that players have come to love while still updating them to the graphic fidelity of something like the Pandaren. There's no timetable, but it's absolutely a priority.
buffed: I think the last time we talked about it you said the designers were working on the Dwarves. Is it still Dwarves or are other races already being worked on as well?
Street: They've been working on the Dwarves and then the Humans and Orcs. We feel that if we can do the Humans and Orcs we can probably do all the races. It may not be the kind of thing where we turn them all on at once -- it may be a gradual rollout. It just depends on how long it takes.
buffed: Then we will hope that we get to see them during the Mists of Pandaria era.
Street: We'll just have to see.
buffed: Thank you very much for your time.