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Posts with tag Design

Latest Artcraft covers exterior level design

One of the things I love about the Artcraft series is how it covers an aspect of World of Warcraft that's critically important and yet often overlooked, namely the look of the game. This week, Blizzard has a new Artcraft for us, covering level design out in the world. As presented by Julian Morris, lead level designer for World of Warcraft's exterior level design team, we get a glimpse into what goes in to giving us the lush visuals of zones like Shadowmoon Valley or Nagrand.
Artcraft - Level Design Part 1
Exterior level design is the process of designing and constructing the zones of World of Warcraft, from Azeroth to Draenor and everything in between. Our team has planned, plotted, and designed the rise and fall of ancient cultures, as well as shaped mountains, forests, seas, lakes, rivers, roads, ruins, and every land feature imaginable. In addition to the land itself, we also design and create cities, towns, and Battlegrounds (with the random exterior dungeon or two in there every now and then, too).

One of the things I remember thinking when I first arrived in Shadowmoon Valley on the beta was how amazing it was that they managed to create a zone that actually felt like a living place, yet you could believe it could become the ruined hellscape of Outland's SMV. Reading about how the level design team works with artists and designers from all over WoW to create these zones is something we've not really gotten much exposure to in the past, so I'm very excited to see how the series continues.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Arts and Crafts, Warlords of Draenor

Expansions, redesign, and the balance of WoW

Between Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, the warlock class saw a near-total redesign that, at this distant remove, we'd have to admit was a runaway success. Class redesigns are always a risky proposition - the dilemma is always between those who find the class reinvigorated and those that liked the class as it was, who now find it unfamiliar and undesirable to play.

The reason I bring this up is because lately, while playing Reaper of Souls, I keep thinking about that warlock redesign and the fact that in RoS Blizzard managed to take a game people generally felt was an unsuccessful sequel and change it in a variety of ways, and in the process so utterly remake people's opinions of it that we get reviews like this in Forbes. This has me thinking about whether or not World of Warcraft is going to see this kind of radical redesign in Warlords of Draenor or not. On the face of it, we're aware of a lot of changes coming - the removal of reforging, stats like hit and expertise, the deflation of stats on gear, health and healing changes - but there's still a lot we don't know about how thorough the redesign of the game is going to be.

Now, to be fair, RoS didn't make any significant mechanical changes - certainly nothing as dramatic as the warlock redesign was. And the warlock redesign came at a time when talents were completely overhauled as well. Clearly, there are various kinds of redesign in any expansion, but how does Warlords of Draenor compare? While we don't have a complete answer, we can compare it to previous expansions.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor

Cory Stockton's first draft of Dalaran

We've seen quite a few of these behind the scenes peeks at Blizzard's design process, from Alex Afrasiabi's pictures of his Benediction design and the Rhok'delar pages, to these pages from Cory Stockton and Jonathan LeCraft including Death Knight and class designs.

Now Cory Stockton's back with this, an early look at how Dalaran's layout was designed.

It's striking in how familiar it is, and yet places like the Dragon Embassy (later relocated to Wyrmrest Temple), the lack of clearly demarcated Horde and Alliance sections, and the presence of the Violet Citadel as a separate instance definitely set it apart from the Dalaran we ended up with. As always, interesting to see the game that might have been.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Machinima, Blizzard, Lore, Wrath of the Lich King

World of Warcraft, complexity, and design vs. sprawl

One of those trends that comes out of reading a lot about World of Warcraft is you start to see patterns in the responses. One trend I (and others, to be fair) have noticed coming out of BlizzCon, and then from discussions with people that I think needs to be understood and explored by players is the notion of vastness in World of Warcraft - this is a game that has recently celebrated its ninth anniversary. In that time it's seen four expansions, with a fifth on the way. Each of these expansions has added something to the game - reforging, transmogrification, arenas, new raid content, new dungeon content, new classes, new spells and abilities, new levels, new stats - and in many cases, this all increases the overall complexity of the game. It goes far beyond simple to understand symptoms of this growth, like the upcoming item squish, and into a realm of interconnected complexity that causes dominos to fall in directions we may not have even seen before it happens.

We started the game with three classes capable of tanking. We're up to five. Along the way, tanking has changed and changed again, until its modern implementation barely even resembles what we were doing back in the days of ten or fifteen person UBRS groups - tanking today has a host of mob control abilities in order to allow them to more effectively control groups of adds, tools for mobility and is based around actively reducing incoming damage in a way it simply wasn't years before. Now, consider this - how does the game itself change in order to challenge the modern tank? What does it do to demand they play to their best? Encounters of the past wouldn't even make a modern tank blink - what challenge would Garr pose to today's tank, for example? A bunch of adds? Bring it. So design has to take these new tanking modes and abilities into account and provide new ways to give them difficult encounters... and these encounters thus create, in their turn, the new tank of the future.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, Raiding, Warlords of Draenor

Why World of Warcraft isn't a democracy

There's a difference between a consumer and a producer. To use the dreaded and overused food analogy, liking to eat doesn't translate into being a good cook. For that matter, liking to eat doesn't even translate into liking to cook, much less displaying any skill at cooking. I neither like to cook nor have even the slightest talent for it, but if you look at me you can tell I'm not shy about eating. Why am I belaboring this point into the ground? Because World of Warcraft isn't a democracy in part because the millions of us who like to eat it don't necessarily possess either the talent or aptitude to cook it up.

Partially this is due to the fact that almost any creative task requires a certain degree of focus, and the more people you attempt to include in the design process the more effort needs to expended keeping the project on track. There's a reason projects of this magnitude often have people who specifically work on doing exactly that. They don't do the individual art, they don't code the abilities or design the environments or that next cool armor, they instead work on keeping all of these variables on track. They're jugglers, and the balls in this case are the varied and disparate elements of the game's overall design.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Mists of Pandaria

How is World of Warcraft not a cheeseburger?

How is World of Warcraft not a cheeseburger
I love analogies, but sometimes they get used to the point where they cease to be useful. And I find the idea of comparing World of Warcraft to a cheeseburger you ordered to be one of those times. But this forum thread, started by forum poster Otsego (who is surprisingly not undead) comparing the changes in the hunter class to ordering a cheeseburger and getting mayo on it (I hate mayo, by the way) and not being able to get the burger without the mayo. The thread ended up getting a lot of posts from players and Ghostcrawler alike, so I thought it worth some analysis. Seriously, I freaking hate mayonnaise. If this wasn't a family site I would be filling this post with profanity and vulgarity right now about how bad mayo is.

Ghostcrawler's first response to the thread interests me for a variety of reasons. The first reason is this quote:

I've actually used the restaurant analogy myself, because few restaurant patrons have the impression that they're going to be able to go back into the kitchen, give the chefs pointers, rearrange the menu and so on just because they think highly of their own opinions on food.

Clearly he's never gone out to dinner with me. (I kid, I kid, I'm actually a very quiet and shy person in public.) But his later point about the desire to try and satisfy a very diverse playerbase with the game's design resonated with me, and it got me thinking about how World of Warcraft is, to a degree, a victim of its own success. Not only do you have to design each class to fill specific roles in a way dictated by its thematic roots (hunters and mages are both ranged DPS, but how they ranged DPS is wildly different for instance) but you also have to design for a very wide variety of players. That's much harder than simply slapping a variety of options up on a big menu board and being done with it.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Mists of Pandaria

Mists of Pandaria Beta: The evolution of itemization

Let me introduce you to the Massacre Sword. It was, and still is, a solid leveling green with a rather good model. I point it out to you to show you the odds of getting one with stats you'd actually want on a warrior, paladin or hunter (the three classes that would be using the sword at the time the game launched) and how likely it was you'd get, say, a Massacre Sword of the Boar or Whale. Granted, you could get a few fairly useful combinations (one of Strength or Agility, say, or a good two stat combo like Bear, Tiger, Eagle, Monkey or Gorilla depending on your class.

This was a green drop, of course. It wasn't meant to be the best of the best, just something to pick up and use on your way to dungeon loot. It's hard to compare it to what it would be replaced by nowadays, because a lot of that gear was re-itemized when Cataclysm came out and the dungeon levels were adjusted up or down. I remember replacing it with Lord Alexander's Battle Axe, followed by a Demonshear and an Arcanite Champion, before forays into Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. It's fascinating to consider how itemization works as a tool in driving players forward. Bad itemization, while baffling at times when encountered in game, actually serves a purpose in the hands of the developers. An item with too good of a stat spread can actually serve as a hanging burr, sticking to your character long after it should have been replaced.

I mention this because, to my mind, Mists of Pandaria is the first expansion to really know this, forwards and backwards. This is the expansion that will use gear design to motivate you better, more skillfully, and more expansively than ever before.

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Filed under: The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

Mists of Pandaria: 'What has changed?' makes class changes more palatable

One of the sharpest double-edged swords in Blizzard's arsenal is the constant iteration to class and play design that comes with each World of Warcraft expansion. On the one hand, players like innovation and new mechanics and spells to keep their favorite class fresh. On the other hand, players could reject the changes as too severe or too different from the class they originally set out to play, as was the case with Alex Ziebart and myself with paladins in Cataclysm. It's a risky move to change up the core mechanics of a class, and the introduction of the "What's New" window helps streamline this occasionally daunting issue.

New and old players alike will benefit greatly from the "What has changed?" tab. Simply open up your spellbook and click on the last tab at the bottom. You'll be greeted with a new screen giving you the run down on some of the biggest changes to your class coming in Mists of Pandaria.

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Filed under: Mists of Pandaria

The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Toolkits and themes

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

This week, in a discussion of War Banner, some interesting points were made. In his response to the discussion, Daxxari said something that really made me think about the warrior class and where it is going -- more importantly, where it can go.

Daxxari - War Banner
Ultimately, we wanted to try and expand the design potential for warriors a bit. Increasingly, it seemed that any new ability had to be another type of movement, a weapon strike, or shout, or it wouldn't feel like a warrior ability. We wanted to try something new, and we're hoping that warriors will give them a shot once we're in beta and let us know how it feels.

What I really found worth examining is this idea of what feels like a warrior ability, exactly. So many people objected to War Banner based around the idea that it's a totem, and totems are shaman-only. War Banner isn't going to be implemented like a totem. But the idea of trying to design new abilities that broaden the feel of warrior abilities leads us to ask what, exactly, does feel like a warrior ability. Should all warrior abilities be shouts, movement-based abilities or weapon strikes?

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Filed under: Warrior, Analysis / Opinion, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Buffs and debuffs in Mists of Pandaria

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

Last week, we talked about incoming statistics changes. This week, we're going to talk about the details to changes in buffs and debuffs and which classes can provide them. This will of course center around the warrior class and which buffs and debuffs we'll specifically bring to the table. We're also going to hopefully get more into the concept of why buffs and debuffs matter.

When World of Warcraft debuted, warriors tanked primarily by their debuffs. Sunder Armor, Demoralizing Shout and Thunder Clap were considered essential for progression tanking. As time has progressed, debuffing mobs and bosses has diversified so that many DPS specs have access to these debuffs. Meanwhile, buffs grew in importance to the point that warriors (DPS or tank) also gained access to a few of those. As the game evolved from The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King and now Cataclysm, buffs and debuffs were consolidated so that various classes offered access to them to prevent any class from having a monopoly on them. Now, with Mists of Pandaria on the horizon, we're seeing more of this evolutionary process.

What does this mean for warriors? Let's talk about that.

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Filed under: Warrior, Analysis / Opinion, Raiding, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors, Mists of Pandaria

Blizzard's post-mortem on Cataclysm dungeons and raids

Blizzard recently released a blog from Dave "Fargo" Kosak that acted as a post-mortem for Cataclysm's quest design. Following on its heels is this entry from Scott "Daelo" Mercer, the lead encounter designer for World of Warcraft. In it, Scott talks successes (Dungeon Journal, Raid Finder) and failures (difficulty level of launch heroics) in the dungeons and raids portion of the game's third expansion and shares what he's looking forward to with the release of Mists of Pandaria. I'm definitely with him in anticipating challenge modes and PvE scenarios.

Read the full interview after the break.

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Filed under: Blizzard, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

Raid Rx: Can healing be diversified further?

Every week, Raid Rx will help you quarterback your healers to victory! Your host is Matt Low, the grand poohbah of World of Matticus and a founder of Plus Heal, a discussion community for healers of all experience levels and interests. Catch his weekly podcast on healing, raiding and leading, the Matticast.

Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street (lead developer) published a developer blog post a few days ago and shared thoughts about roles within the game. DPS classes tend to have multiple specs that can be switched to in order to provide a different set of damage spells and utilities. Some of the examples cited included warlocks and rogues, since they're straight DPS classes. Would it be possible to hypothesize and think about single-role healing classes with varied specs? While I don't think it is unheard of, I can already think about the different logistical and gameplay difficulties that are going to come with it.

For DPSers, you have that role divided between those players in the ranged group and those belonging to the melee. With healing, you're limited with just being purely at range. There isn't a classified melee-only healer (and we don't know entirely how the monk will play out).

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Raid Rx (Raid Healing)

"There are no simple solutions" -- Design diversity in WoW

In a recent post on the forums, Bashiok responded to the idea that 1.35% of all WoW players have completed normal Firelands and what that does or does not mean for the recent changes implemented to the raid instance. It's a very interesting and information-filled post that I think deserves a thorough examination, as it reveals elements of Blizzard's current design philosophy and how and why it chooses to alter raids from their initial difficulty levels.

I intend to go over the entire post carefully, but here are some highlights to ponder up front:
  • The 1.35% number is just plain wrong. Blizzard has its own numbers that it's not going to share, but the 1.35% is probably as accurate as could be expected without access to Blizzard's internal data gathering.
  • Blizzard's design intent is to make content for all of the playerbase. "It's both a blessing and a curse that the WoW player base is as large and diverse as it is."
  • Players raid for many different reasons, some challenge, others loot, and others just to see the content. Some players are happy if they just see a boss once, while others enjoy weekly clearing.
  • The idea of being willing to wipe a hundred or more times to clear a boss, a staple of the raider mentality for years, is not appealing to most players.
OK, so now that we've picked out a few highlights, let's go over the entire post and really consider the implications of designing for as many players as possible.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, News items, Lore, Hotfixes

Breakfast Topic: Have you spotted your own game design ideas in game?

This Breakfast Topic has been brought to you by Seed, the AOL guest writer program that brings your words to WoW Insider's pages.

Back around the time Wrath of the Lich King launched, a fan site ran a "Design a Raid Encounter" contest. Since I had gotten through a good portion of the first tier of raid content by then, I figured that I had all kinds of wonderful ideas and took my pen to paper. I conjured up an encounter with the Titan's personal blacksmith as a one-off raid like Sartharion or Malygos. I scribbled room layouts on scraps of paper I had at my desk and thought up some particularly nasty mechanics that involved managing stacking buffs and debuffs based around molten slag. To top things off, I gave the boss a few construct adds that would be activated at certain health percentages in order to try to prevent straight burns.

A few months later, I was in Ulduar and saw Ignis with his golem adds, and I was hit with a wave of déjà vu. A similar situation arose when I first saw how Karsh Steelbender's fight went down. Did I channel some sort of developer mojo, or was this some sort of crazy coincidence?

I'd like to think that after playing the game as long as I have, as well as an additional 10 or so years of pen-and-paper RPGs, I'm bound to come to some of the same conclusions as the developers. I'm certain that I'm not the only one who's had his flights of fancy materialize in game content and that it will happen again.

What have you seen pulled from your imagination end up in game?

Filed under: Breakfast Topics, Guest Posts

Gold Capped: Auctionator addon helps you buy, sell and profit

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Gold Capped, in which Basil "Euripides" Berntsen aims to show you how to make money on the auction house, and Insider Trader, which is all about professions. For Gold Capped's inside line on crafting for disenchanting, transmutation, cross-faction arbitrage and more, check in here every Thursday, and email Basil with your comments, questions or hate mail! This week's gold blogosphere post is Kaliope's Cataclysm jewelcrafting coverage.

Auctionator is a simple, lightweight addon that allows you to do some pretty basic stuff very efficiently. I've said before that there are some serious problems with the auction house interface, and even though the last design pass left it in a better situation than it was before, it's still pretty bad for a few reasons:
  • You can't see the price of your competition when you are listing your auctions.
  • The default suggested price is absolute nonsense and doesn't contain a buyout.
  • You can't see the unit price for auctions when you buy.
  • You can't sort by anything useful when you buy.
  • You can't save searches to avoid retyping each time.
None of these are game-breaking, but they're the reason every single person with over 100,000g uses addons. I am still an Auctioneer user, but while its dev team was sitting on a nonfunctional development build when patch 4.0.1 broke the addon, I had to go elsewhere to avoid being tormented by the almost functional default interface. I discovered that of all the addons I played with, Auctionator is the one that will remain part of my toolbox going forward, simply because it has a few killer features that I find easier to use for some tasks.

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Filed under: Economy, Add-Ons, Gold Capped

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