BlizzCast Episode 15

For the fifteenth episode of Blizzard Entertainment's BlizzCast podcast, several members of the World of Warcraft development team discuss the direction they went with world design, sound design, class design, and voice acting in the soon-to-be-released Cataclysm expansion pack. A snip from the transcript:
Lylirra: Speaking of our players, currently there is a perception that, as World of Warcraft continues to evolve, classes and characters are becoming more and more simple both in terms of gameplay and character customization. The community frequently credits this to our desire to make the certain aspects of the game more accessible. How would you combat this perception and are there any upcoming changes that might help address this concern, changes that players may not be already fully aware of?

Greg Street: So a couple of different things. World of Warcraft has been around a long time now. We went back and looked at the number of bosses in the game and the number is gigantic, it's over 100. I took a guess once at how many bosses we have and I was under by like half. Players constantly want to see new things they don't want to see the same encounters over and over again so encounters get quite complicated and at the same time the classes are getting more and more abilities. Every time you gain a couple of levels you get a new ability, to where a lot of the classes can't fit all of their abilities on the standard action bars we give you.

So we have this sort of ability bloat on the one hand with fights that get more and more complicated on the other hand and we thought that something has to give here. We can't just keep amping up both of those things. We ultimately decided it was more fun to do it on the encounter side because we thought it would be more engaging and keep players around longer if every encounter they approached felt a little different rather than once I master my rotation it's going to work the same over and over and over again.

Originally I don't think a great deal of thought went into the rotations of a class. I mean in Molten Core a lot of classes didn't even have rotations, for the Warlock cast Shadowbolt. Nowadays we design classes to have certain abilities that have synergies so that you do them in a certain order. Definitely on like the traditionally long PVE boss fight but even in PVP even when solo even when handling packs of trash or whatever the players are expected to manage a lot of abilities. If they want to do completive DPS or whatever they need to know how all that stuff works together. We took a step back and tried to decide does this really make sense or not? Do players really need this mechanic and/or are we getting anything out of that? Can we really find a niche for this spell or ability? I think in Cataclysm the classes that got a little simpler were the ones that kind of needed to. Feral druid to some extent. On the other hand we took some rotations and added a little bit of complication to them, fury warrior and melee paladins come to mind.

So I am not sure that it is totally fair that we have just been dumb'ing the game down, I think players say that sometimes when they see that a lot of players are in heroic dungeons and raiding nowadays. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are successful at it. That doesn't mean they are successful as you are or that they got to the content as quickly as you did or that they have got all the achievements or that they were able to see all the fights on heroic. We want to bring up the bottom end where we think a lot different types of players can experience the content. We also want to make sure for that players who want to show their stuff and test themselves have fights like that out there and players are probably discovering that is the case for Synestra today.

So the customization issue is also interesting. Originally the vision for World of Warcraft was that there were lots of different types of armor and only the best players get the best looking armor. We've kind of relaxed that as time has gone on because getting set bonuses is one of the big defining moments of a particular tier of gear, whether you are talking about a dungeon or a raid. That's one of the things that is really what's going to change what you do otherwise the stats are just oh look more spell power, more int, more crit the kind of stuff you have on your gear now. So we really like for players to get their set bonuses. Getting set bonuses changes up the way they play a little bit. We did not want to deny that to the great unwashed and only keep it for the super elite raiders so we make sure that players have an avenue to get their set bonuses. It used to be back in the day you would see the guy that could raid in Black Wing Lair and Naxxramus he was decked out in this crazy stuff that you could only imagine that someday you would be that cool and have that gear. We are going to try and recapture that a little bit in Cataclysm by making sure that shoulders and helmets can only be gained through raiding and therefore you can only gain your 4 piece set bonus by raiding you can get your 2 piece bonus your cool gear off badges or running heroic dungeons but you actually have to see the content to be ultimately tricked out.

The look of World of Warcraft is still really important to us, I think a lot of MMO's decide we'll just let the players do whatever and the players know what's best and if they want to look like a clown then they can look like a clown and were ok with that. I think our approach sometimes comes off as more heavy handed, players want more freedom then we are often willing to give them because we are trying to control the experience to some extent. It is important to us that characters look cool and while we occasionally give you items that let you turn into a furbolg or let you turn yourself different colors and things like that we ultimately want to preserve the look and make sure that players look cool and can't make themselves look ridiculous. If we had a way to examine the way players look then we could say "no you can't use that color dye with that color dye because you look silly".

Lylirra: An approval process of sorts.

Greg Street: Yeah. That is just kind of beyond the scope of what we can do given the size of our audience. So we understand it is important for players to be able to distinguish themselves we try to do that a lot through the companion pets you can get. We're increasingly offering more non combat toys with things like archeology and a lot of the trade skills and some of our world events. We would like to get even more creative with minor glyphs. I think minor glyphs still haven't quite delivered on the initial promise of "oh your fireball can be green". Some of that requires tech that we don't have yet. Some of it requires asking an artist for not only a new spell for a level 83 Death Knight ability but for 4 versions of it so I can change the colors and stuff too. It is still something we really want to do and it is in the long term plan. That will allow players a little more freedom to be a unique individual inside all of the Shaman wearing all the same armor sets.