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Posts with tag Game-Design

What's wrong with Blizzard's development process? Nothing, nothing is wrong.


In yesterday's Queue Jeff asked the following question:

What is it about the software development process that causes Blizzard to slingshot from solving a problem to so overdoing it that it becomes a problem in and of itself. Examples:
  • Dungeons in Wrath were too easy - Cata dungeons are now stupid hard
  • Questing is too scattered in Vanilla - All questing will be done in a streamlined fashion
  • Not enough dailies in Cata - Locked reputation grinds via dailies to open up further content in Mists
The next example coming - Some people loved the farm, let's build an entire expansion around a farm but make it bigger and we'll call it Garrisons and we will add so many features that there is no way the players can't love this.

I'm calling it now, Garrisons will turn into one of the biggest mistakes of WoD.


I see this a lot -- people questioning the processes that Blizzard uses to arrive at the end product of a WoW expansion. I take no issue with this questioning, I think it's the vital step that helps the community better understand the microcosm of the universe we play in. Blizzard has a growing obligation to the massive community to keep them informed of how their universe is changing, and a deeper understanding of how it gets made is central to that.

However... I don't feel that it's a problem with the software development process -- that's a very defined process of creating software to specifications, testing, refining it in (ideally) agile methodology. Blizzard is just as good, if not better, than others in that area.

Game design, although, is an entirely different animal.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

Community Manager Zarhym on game design vs. story development

Zarhym on game design vs story development
It's always interesting seeing the blue team's thoughts on World of Warcraft, whether on the community, or the development of the game itself. Community Manager Zarhym had some profound words to share this week regarding the interviews we've been seeing for patch 5.4, and the challenges of setting up community interviews with the different developers. There's been a big, ongoing debate amongst players regarding story development this expansion -- in particular, faction story development. Players feel that the Alliance story has been somewhat left behind this expansion, to say the very least.

Zarhym decided to chime in and comment not only on this topic, but on the topic of interviews in general, and how hard the story development team works on the story behind the game we love to play. Given that we've done several interviews with various developers over the course of Mists of Pandaria, it was nice to see Zarhym's thoughts on the matter. Read on for his post in full.

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Filed under: News items, Mists of Pandaria

University of Texas and Blizzard COO Paul Sams launch game design academy

If you're looking to go pro in game design, Blizzard COO Paul Sams has teamed up with the University of Texas at Austin to create the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. The academy will be led and taught by gaming industry executives and the curriculum will be guided by industry veteran Warren Spector. The 12-month, post-baccalaureate program will guide students through creating a game from start to finish, giving them the experience they need to join the gaming industry when they graduate.

"The University of Texas at Austin has a tremendous track record of building nationally recognized programs that generate the leaders and critical thinkers the gaming industry needs," Sams said. "The program will focus on building the skills required for students to lead teams and develop games from concept to completion, while growing talent for the gaming industry."

The program starts in 2014, but with only 20 spots available, you probably have a better chance of getting into a competitive raid guild.

Filed under: News items

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

Ghostcrawler tells 8 year old how to be a game designer

Rarely are the forums heartwarming, but this forum thread not only delivers on the heartwarming aspect but it also gives us a reasonably detailed peek at what companies like Blizzard are looking at when they look for new designers. When forum poster Aaiya made a thread on behalf of his or her eight year old son who is interested in becoming a game designer someday, we first got a solid response from Peratryn and then Daxxari comes in with a response from Ghostcrawler.

Not only is it cool that the people who work at Blizzard would take the time to answer the thread in the first place, but upon reading Daxxari's post with Ghostcrawler's response, I know I felt like I'd learned something new, and I figured a lot of us would be interested in reading it over.

Rather than pick it apart, we'll reproduce Daxxari's entire post after the cut.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, News items

Blizzard developer blogs about game design

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Netherspite was overcomplicated to the point of absurdity and the most enjoyable way to approach the fight was to skip it. It required a level of coordination that players had never experienced at the time. Heavy movement, beam rotations, a need to run away to avoid death, then run back in to get beams back under control. Raiders today could pull it off without issue. Raiders back then, it was far above what most players had ever seen, and it was in the introductory raid. Its difficulty was far beyond the rest of the dungeon, even.

This is what Alex told me when I asked him to describe Netherspite for me. I wanted to know because I recently found out that the Blizzard developer who designed Netherspite was reassigned to work on simpler content in the game after designing that encounter. The reason? He'd let his desire for innovation get away from him.

At least, that's what he says. His name is Alex Brazie, and he's been blogging about game design the past couple of months. In his blog, Breaking Open the Black Box, he shares his experiences and lessons learned from working as a game designer at Blizzard. The whole blog is a sort of a meandering trip through the intellectual process of game design, which you'll probably find amusing if you've seen a fair share of raid encounters over the years.

And if reading about game design doesn't appeal to you, I'll admit that I've also been reading every one of his posts in hopes that at some point he'll explain why so many strange items in the game are named after him. Here are but a few: Brazie's Black Book of Secrets, Brazie's Guide to Getting Good with Gnomish Girls, and Brazie's Notes on Naughty Night Elves. Who is this guy?!

Filed under: News items

The Smart Kids -- or, why Cataclysm failed to impress

I was a smart kid. You remember those kids from school who were always the first to turn a test in and the ones to get the best grades? The ones who never seemed to put any effort into studying but always managed to get an A? That was me. You'd think that being a smart kid would make life incredibly easy, but it did exactly the opposite. Of course you had the endless students who hated you or made fun of you because you were smart, but there was something much harder to deal with than that.

See, in public schools (in America, at least), teachers generally teach at the speed of the slowest kid in class. This is absolutely appropriate, because you don't want anyone to fall behind. For the slowest kid, this meant that subjects were presented in a way that they could understand, and they'd learn the lessons even if it took a little extra time. But for the smartest kid in the class, it meant that classrooms were places of exquisite torture where information flowed at a snail's pace, and most of the information presented were things the smart kid already knew.

It made school an excruciatingly boring place to be.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Cataclysm, 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

Guest Post: Into the future with user-created content

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

One wonders how long World of Warcraft will remain viable. It is quite possible that my warlock will still be going strong decades down the line. Of one thing, however, I am certain: I will be playing some sort of MMORPG for as long as I'm able to tweak my spec. But will that game be WoW?

My friends and I muse about what it would take to switch to another game. That game would have to build upon WoW's legacy and offer something new and amazing to boot. Speaking of boots, I'd wager my Prelate's Snowshoes that the new game will be some incarnation of WoW itself, as Blizzard has proven so willing and able to adapt and grow with its fan base.

What makes WoW so popular and enduring? For starters, the game is so accommodating, with plenty to offer noobs and leets alike. Players can feel a sense of accomplishment from merely questing, while others can savor the challenge of working through multiple levels of high-end raid content. I can feel the delight of one-shotting a low-health rogue sneaking around the lumber mill or experience the soul-destroying chaos of getting quickly roasted in arena. And those of us with creaking, overworked CPUs are able to take part in the fun.

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Filed under: Guest Posts

Guest Post: The death of in-game interaction


This article has been brought to you by Seed, the Aol guest writer program that brings your words to WoW.com.

WoW's evolution has changed the course of both MMO game design and the landscape of the MMO player base in dramatic ways. By exploring the road most traveled, WoW has led the way from the roots of tabletop pen-and-paper RPGs and early MMO tabletop simulations into MMOs as virtual RPG themeparks.

Despite WoW's fantastic success on many fronts, in its evolution toward catering to the most common, casual style of play, it's removed much of the human interaction that made early MMO experiences special. Today's WoW is slick, seamless and streamlined. There is nothing one player can achieve that another player cannot also relatively easily achieve. Yet while players in today's WoW maintain that this thinly clad, egalitarian experience is "best," in reality, what we see is a continuous striving for distinction free from the confines of the game design itself. The ever-present GearScore sniff test has streamlined the need for player interaction to the point that interaction is barely needed at all.

In fact, it might be this very streamlining that has caused this MMO behemoth to slide away from the real magic of the early MMOs, to become a sanitized gaming experience that only barely acknowledges its need for virtual face-to-face gameplay. I miss the real interaction with my fellow players that speaks to the oldest traditions of what spawned MMOs: tabletop RPGs. I want player interactions to drive the game experience, from raiding to crafting to questing. The biggest villains and heroes of an MMO should be players, not pre-scripted heroes and playerless cut scenes. The next big MMO, I hope, can make this happen.

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Filed under: Guest Posts

Call for Submissions: What do you want from your next MMO?

The world of MMOs would be a very different place without the monumental presence of World of Warcraft. At this point, WoW has shaped an entire world full of gamers, setting expectations, conventions and precedents that other games will be struggling to meet (or dodge, or surpass) for years to come. What is WoW's legacy to you? Once you've logged out for the last time and are eagerly preparing to dive into the next big thing, what will you be looking for?

WoW.com is accepting article submissions on what you crave from your next big MMO experience. From playstyle to game features, community and social features to casual/hardcore balance, what do you want out of the next MMO you'll play? What has WoW whetted your appetite for that you'd like more of? What would you like to explore in areas WoW never ventured? Your article will clearly relate how Blizzard and World of Warcraft's legacy has shaped your ideas on what you'd like to play in the years to come.

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Filed under: WoW Insider Business, Guest Posts

15 Minutes of Fame: Psychologist and games researcher John Hopson

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

What keeps gamers hooked on their game of choice? Chances are, it's an element of the gameplay that was teased out with the help of games researcher John Hopson. The experimental psychologist and beta program head for Microsoft Game Studios examines what makes gamers do the things they do and then designs ways to keep them happily doing just that -- most recently, in titles such as Shadow Complex, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.

All that, and he's a WoW player to the core. "I mostly play in the two semi-official Microsoft WoW guilds, and lately I've been a hardcore player in a casual's body," he notes. "My wife and I had our first child a few months ago, so we've both dropped raiding and have been levelling alts instead since that doesn't require a fixed schedule. So far, we're both up to 5 level 80s apiece. :)" We thought it was time to turn the tables on Hopson, a loyal reader and occasional commenter at WoW.com, and ask him for his perspectives on WoW from the inside out.

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Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

Rob Pardo speaks about Blizzard game design

The tenth annual Game Developers Conference is in full swing in San Francisco, CA -- and yesterday included a panel by Rob Pardo, Executive Vice President of Game Design at Blizzard Entertainment. Pardo spoke about design philosophy and how Blizzard approaches it, sharing not only Blizzard's success stories, but where they failed along the way, and what they did to fix it. Blizzard's design philosophy follows some key elements:

Gameplay First: Before anything else, you want to concentrate the game on the fun. All aspects of the game -- the design, the mechanics of encounters, the quests and story are focused on making the game fun to play. Not only fun to play -- but fun to play for players, not developers. The challenge is to keep players jumping through the correct hoops, while making those hoops fun. Sometimes this involves making some changes -- for example, only night elf males could be druids in Warcraft III, but for the sake of making the druid class, something that sounded like all kinds of fun, they had to be made accessible to both genders, and both sides. So the lore was adjusted so that females and tauren could both be druids -- otherwise they couldn't have introduced the class at all. And that wouldn't be any fun.

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Filed under: News items

Patch 3.3 PTR: WoW moves towards shorter cooldowns

If you checked the most recent Patch 3.3 PTR patch notes, a comparison of spells would show that Blizzard has reduced a lot of spells' cooldowns by a notable amount. This makes a significant impact on the playing environment on numerous levels, as most of these spells on long cooldowns were long considered to be powerful abilities whose use were once thought situational.

These shorter cooldowns will see more abilities in play, figuring more into dungeons, questing, or world PvP. Most of these abilities still won't see action in Arenas, where the allowable spells have been limited to abilities with cooldowns below ten minutes (down from fifteen). The change appears to be a direct result of many spell cooldowns being reduced.

This continues a trend in shortened cooldowns, reflecting what Ghostcrawler said in one thread about how Blizzard "in general (has) been moving away from long cooldowns, anyway." Players saw this when the iconic long-cooldown ability Lay on Hands -- an inevitable Patch 3.3 candidate for a nerf -- became usable every 20 minutes from a formerly mind-numbing one hour. More abilities are now being adjusted to be usable more often and, when necessary, balanced accordingly. Check out the full list after the jump.

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Filed under: Patches, Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

Is WoW being run by its B-team? Is that bad?


This post by Eric Heimburg on the excellent MMO design blog Elder Game, alleging that WoW is currently run by Blizzard's B-team, has ignited a fair amount of controversy around the blogosphere. The general argument appears to be that the people previously in charge of WoW, like Jeff Kaplan, have moved on to other projects. As a consequence knee-jerk changes are being pushed through very fast, without being sufficiently tested first. "Back in the day," claims the article, "QA held the game to a higher standard."

My reaction to these claims are mixed. Kaplan may not be in charge of WoW anymore, but I don't think that "the steady hand has left the rudder," or if it has, maybe a less straight-ahead course is a good thing. Changes may be getting pushed through very quickly - Ghostcrawler routinely refers to players getting whiplash from the frequency of balance changes - but in many cases, I think this is for the best.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

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