Episode 40 - Ion Hazzikostas Interview

It's another big week, Mobs and Minions, as Ion Hazzikostas, Lead Game Designer, joins Bay and Ana on Final Boss. They call him "Watcher" on both the forums and on Twitter because of all the various floating gnomes named SomethingWatcher when raid bosses and zones are tested on the PTR. Ion lets us know how our pathetic desire to attribute portions of the game to individual developers betraaaaaaays us when it comes to making the game better, but Ion is in fact to blame for not only Sindragosa's scream but also Thorim and Faction Champions. If it goes wrong in Ulduar, blame Cele--blame Watcher. (Not Zarhym.)

We start off with boss specifics: least and most favorites! The least favorites, Rhyolith and Ambershaper Unsok, mainly had problems with the interactions between players and boss being especially -- should I use the c word? -- clunky. Rhyolith had the problem of too many trying to steer one leg and Ambershaper was an unforgiving repeat of Malygos's surprise! important vehicular combat. The most favorite bosses Ion lists -- Siegecrafter and Lei Shen -- share interactivity with the environment where raid groups can customize a strat to a further extent than usual by selecting which mechanics are dealt with when, much like a Choose Your Own Adventure style of fight.

Speaking of Choose Your Own Adventure, the raid encounters team judges carefully between full-on exploits that trivialize mechanics or true creative uses of game mechanics that just end up doing the fight a different way than planned. Mobs and Minions might play on large monitors, but the raid encounters team literally watches a stream of the bleeding edge raids on a big wall-mounted TV to catch hotfixes like Thok's infinite phase 1.

There aren't any specific plans for special Mythic-only bosses in Warlords a la Ra-den or Sinestra. The bonus-boss idea also works better with the bigger raids. Limited attempts also works better as a bonus boss like Ra-den than as a wing idea like the ICC model. Teams of alts can scout out wing bosses or short raids fairly easily to cheese the limited attempt cap, but ultimate or bonus bosses that require clearing absolutely everything before, thus locking the alt team to a single raid ID, are fine with limited attempts.

The OOPS, OUR BAD of Mists of Pandaria:

  • The gating of dailies in 5.0 would be done differently in hindsight.
  • The sheer number of dailies was too much up front.
  • Randomized orders of bosses (Mogu'shan dog, Spirit Kings, even back to Halfus) is a cool idea to keep farm bosses interesting, but it leads to frustration when the raid is actually trying to progress through the encounter or encounters behind it. Similarly, Heroic Paragons was initially to vary week by week, but was scrapped in favor of not having to memorize a bazillion ways to do the fight.
  • It would have been better to have more even gaps in content to avoid the year-long Siege.

The OOH, DO IT AGAIN of Mists of Pandaria:

  • The patch 5.1 model of story telling with dailies and scenarios was well done.
  • The Timeless Isle's freeform and unstructured exploration-based environment is really cool.

Let's talk healing!

  • Healing is too one-dimensional right now. As Bay put it: "DPSing the Grid bars." Specifically, the devs think that Heroic Thok is bananas when it comes to discovering how hard the hits have to be coming in to keep up with player heals.
  • The problem with Cataclysm's triage model was the tight mana at the beginning. 
  • The new active mana regeneration is meant to be a downtime choice between regeneration or throughput, leading to players planning when to use spells rather than blindly spamming the best spell.
  • The new active mana regeneration is also something for healers to do during downtime rather than just stand there (though, they can also do that).
  • Absorbs get more important as overhealing happens more often, as absorbs can snipe incoming damage from direct heals before the damage hits a player.
  • The devs don't like to nerf healing mid-tier because of how raid compositions can affect encounter strategies.

Let's talk caster movement!

  • Hunters are allowed to move on the run because it adheres to the nimble archer fantasy archetype of the class. If, however, a pure Patchwerk boss was done, hunters wouldn't be on the top of the meters. Doing damage on the run is a strength for them; they have other weaknesses to counterbalance.
  • Limiting the movement of caster DPS moves the balance bar between ranged and melee back to reasonable.
  • Melee can do 100% damage on the run, but have a hard time switching or when out of range of their target.
  • Ranged can pivot and switch targets easily (or multidot many targets simultaneously) but their damage drops if they are interrupted by having to move.
  • Speaking of multidotting and padding meters, the devs will point out irrelevant damage, but view the damage meter problem as a mostly social construct rather than a game problem.
  • Skillful gameplay relates to planning casts around having to move, primarily those who can master the minimization of moving.
  • Besides Ion points out that canceling casts when you can cast while moving is the absolute weirdest, and speaking as a warlock I can confirm this.

Running the same LFR wing for 4 months straight is dumb. However, having Mythic raiders run LFR in the first place for specific loot is also dumb. Current LFR solution: don't drop important pieces like tier sets or super powerful trinkets, but increase the loot drops so LFR-style players aren't in there forever.

Proving Grounds: How to teach the next expansion of players:

  • Devs took LFR combatlogs to look at what low performing players were doing.
  • Surprisingly, low performing players aren't necessarily maliciously trying to fail the LFR. Instead, the leveling game does not adequately mirror or teach what the endgame looks like. (e.g., DoTs don't survive two ticks on most quest mobs, so where do you as a new player get the idea to use it on a raid boss?)
  • Proving Grounds can offer an instructional or troubleshooting aspect for new players before entering endgame.
  • Silver is trivial to raiders but less so to the audience it is intended for.
  • A current flaw of Proving Grounds is the impact of gear downscaling as the expansion goes on, particularly with healer mechanics or when breakpoint-driven stats are adjusted.

The devs regret the long delay of content with regards to the year-long Siege of Orgrimmar, but making an expansion is not like making a patch; the timetable is less obvious to judge. The alpha and beta structures are different than Mists of Pandaria because MoP was weird by itself with the annual pass. The annual pass required a massive beta population size when betas are typically much smaller for feedback purposes rather than to see the content earlier. The developer team also added many more people to the development, so it took time to get those new devs up to speed to produce bigger and better results than before.

More clarifications on garrisons:

  • A core feature in WoD, it's highly integrated with questing.
  • Having a Garrison is mandatory if you step foot in Warlords, but the game lets you decide what to do with it.
  • Mythic raider doesn't do anything with her Garrison? It'll be OK.
  • Garrisons are not account-wide because of the Choose Your Adventure style of leveling up and revealing the story per character.
  • However, some Garrison things may have account-level caps to discourage needing a Garrison built a specific way on every alt.

Dun dun dun, the big topic we've all been waiting for: raid lockouts & difficulties:

  • Keep in mind, the raid content is designed for the raiding population as a whole, not just for LFR or just for Mythic raiders.
  • The pressure to run everything will really only occur in the first week when literally everything is an upgrade over all those quest greens or dungeon blues. The first week is always completely bananas and nigh-impossible to counteract.
  • From tier to tier, raiders decked out in a Mythic kit will not need anything from Normal aside from the one week you're missing that 4th piece of tier.
  • Raiders already clear the old difficulty while starting on the new one.
  • The nonlinearity of the new raids will also help with clearing as raiders can choose to not do a particular wing if it has nothing of value for the majority of the raid.
  • Ana summarizes it: Raiders won't spend many more hours farming, but they will use their time differently while farming raid bosses for loot.
  • Not every repetition of a raid through size or difficulty is the same. A casual alt raid has different vibes than the main Mythic progression race.
  • WoD Heroic does not need to be done to do Mythic, but Mythic will be delayed for a week every tier, much like Heroic mode is now.
  • The raid leader controls the lockout and mode.

Did we hear a number over 25 players in a raid? Yes! We did! For now, 30 players is the new maximum barring server performance throwing a fit.

At the end of the live stream, Ion made a joke about having fun with the transcript. Poneria has now managed to kill XT's heart and not use Saronite Vapors on Vezax, so it's all gravy. Final Boss's Ra-Ra-Sis-Boom-Ba-Den of information from the After Show is found below!

We hear that the raids will be more Ulduar-esque, but what does that mean?

  • Environmental integration into encounters, harking back to the comments about Siegecrafter and Lei Shen.
  • There's a fight with trains, on trains, with trains going around the raid. 
  • There's fighting on an assembly line with stamps coming down on the conveyor belt.

Let's talk about Challenge Modes in Warlords:

  • There's a want to get past pure speed running as the main CM format.
  • Gear rewards will help get more than just speed runners into CMs.
  • It's hard to fix problems in CMs because of leaderboard disruption. 
  • Admittedly, mostly hardcore console/PC speedruns involve a good amount of glitching the game rather than smart play within the game mechanic lines.
  • CC slows a team down, but want more varied CC (not just AoE stuns) and more methodical pulling rather than clumpy pulling.
  • Tank vengeance not being a thing will definitely help.

We talk a little bit about the development and testing of raids:

  • Lore and story are usually first when it comes to building a raid zone. Plot lines, major villains, main story chunks to move along are all components that have to be addressed.
  • Individual bosses mix it up a little. Lore influenced Fangdral Staghelm in Firelands, but environment vibes and cool mechanics influenced Alysrazor and Beth'tilac.
  • For Warlords PTR, players can be scaled up to level 100 in not just gear but also spells, so raids can be tested more easily without having to level a PTR toon.
  • Mythic testing will be more focused, but not necessarily more time. The goal is to test, not to learn the strat on the PTR.

Ion's best feature of MoP? Flexible raiding, and it's not done yet showing off how awesome it is. For the majority of the raiding population, it's a massive improvement of time spent in the game. The devs are confident that Warlords' Heroic mode can be tuned appropriately with the spectrum of raid size because the WoD Heroic audience will be much broader in both skill and attitude than the min/maxing Mythic crowd. The pre-expansion 6.0 patch will also be out for 4-6 weeks to allow players to try the new sizes and difficulties out with Siege before tier 17 gets going.

Ion talks about how the legendaries in MoP worked out:

  • More upsides than downsides, but lessons definitely learned.
  • 5.1 Valor was a flat & boring grind.
  • 5.4 pacing was problematic, because having the legendary cloak on Heroic opening week was a significant boost for player performance too early on. 
  • 5.3 pacing was better, because the meta gems being achieved halfway through the content acted like a zone-wide buff to player performance.
  • Regret having to do grindy parts all over on alts.
  • Not retroactive, but would have let alts skip the grindy collection parts, but do the one-shot scenario events.
  • The legendary cloak visual is epic in solo or small-group play, but obnoxiously overbearing and loud in larger group play like raids.

Speaking of obnoxious spell effects, we almost missed Ana's favorite gripe!

  • Yes, Iyyokuk's dome is meant to mess with the melee field of view.
  • Multiple problems involved with spell effect overload.
  • #1: Not all spells are equal when they should be. E.g. Holy Sanctuary out-visuals Healing Rain while doing a similar purpose.
  • #2: Some spells are louder than what they represent. E.g. Moonfire is a DoT like any other DoT, but it looks like a tactical nuke when it lands.
  • #3: Some spells should feel epic to the caster, but nobody else would care. E.g. Only fire mages care about epicly orange meteors. 
  • A new programming system lets devs rate spells by priority for visuals (& also for sounds, Celestalon and Zarhym mentioned this before!)
  • It's about client performance from computers but also about tactical performance from players.
  • It will be default to see the culled appearance of spell effects, but players can toggle back on the overload if they wish to see absolutely everything.

As always, Final Boss and its guests love to answer community questions at the end of the show.  You can ask them via the website: http://finalboss.tv/askaboss/ - via Twitter: @finalbosstv #AskABoss & via Twitch Chat during the After Show!

Final Boss airs on Twitch.tv/FinalBossTV every Sunday at 1pmPST/4pmEST/10pmCET.

- Poneria