Alpha Boss - Episode #1

Bay is going to be streaming tons of the Warlords of Draenor Alpha with the intent and focus on actually testing, going over, trying out and digging into each and every class to see what has changed. This allows chat room to join in with questions and discussions about their upcoming changes in a very positive manner.

However, Alpha is Alpha, or Beta is Beta, whatever...and things are bound to go tits up.

Episode 36 - Blizzard Developer Interview

Phew! What a week it's been, Mobs and Minions. Get ready to talk not only about Warlords of Draenor alpha patch notes, but about how the developers and community managers are redoing their own methods of getting feedback to and from the players.

This week, Final Boss interviews Chadd "Celestalon" Nervig, Technical Game Designer, and Jonathan "Zarhym" Brown, Senior Community Representative. If you can't find the answers to any questions about Mankrik's wife, just remember: #BlameCelestalon #NotZarhym.

Zarhym is one of many conduits between the community and the company. Community feedback is really important to Blizzard, and Zarhym is one of nine Community Representatives in the North American region of World of Warcraft. Players know these conduits primarily from the Community Managers (CMs), but it extends to an entire team of representatives, and every game and region has its own team. 

A few tasks for a Community Representative include:

  • Managing the content in blogs for publishing
  • Running Blizzard's official social media websites, including Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.
  • Responding to players via Twitter
  • Helping out with marketing or PR campaigns
  • Gathering community feedback from the players and distilling it for the developers

Bay notes that Mists of Pandaria was perhaps a big testing ground for this watching and gathering of player feedback, and our interviewees confirm that the new "patch novel" of notes is an evolving new way of communicating changes to the playerbase.

Celestalon is a Technical Game Designer, which means he deals with everything involving the rules of the game. He works on the systems design team with 6-7 other people, a central hub that connection just about every design department to the other departments. The design process at Blizzard is iterative and collaborative with all team members working together on the same projects. 

Celestalon got started at Blizzard through the armor penetration stat controversy in Wrath of the Lich King, when players boasted they could build better spreadsheets than Blizzard could. Celestalon primarily deals in combat mechanics and core concepts of gameplay like talents or Draenor Perks, but he ends up talking with a lot of other game designers on other concepts like:

  • Raid encounters
  • Itemization
  • Programmers with new technologies, like making the game smoother and more responsive,
  • Art design for spell effects
  • PvP mechanics, as he used to sit right next to Holinka.

Ana notes that it's really cool as a player to see that Celestalon is very direct on Twitter with answering player questions about specific mechanics. Rumor has it that the sparkly dragon never sleeps, as you can often see him still tweeting away at 4am when he's not at work. He wishes that he could understand more languages for even more connection to the player community, but for now will have to rely on Google Translate. Celestalon believes that the interaction helps the community understand what the developers are going for when changes happen and how mechanics are designed.

The recent Warlords of Draenor patch notes are not just an alpha set for the game, but an alpha for a new way of presenting the patch notes themselves to the community. The developers and community representatives are trying for communicating more context behind changes to the players. The team is going for a hybrid between blog paragraphs and bullet points, composing the "patch novel" in both broad and narrow strokes of words.

If players have any feedback regarding how patch notes are presented to the players, be sure to leave them in the blog comments themselves, as primary patch note writer CM Rygarius is watching carefully over there.

Before we jump into the technical questions for Warlords of Draenor alpha notes, here's a quick recap of some upcoming blog posts from Blizzard about the new expansion:

  • The next Artcraft post just published today! Check it out for a look at the new male tauren as well as a bunch of insight on how the models get animated.
  • A post on professions is coming soon.
  • A 4-part series on Garrisons is going to be started on this week by Zarhym and Cory Stockton, Lead Content Designer.
  • The patch notes already have updates coming, with more than 5,000 words already!
  • Class-specific changes should be coming up later after the above posts.

Item squish
Celestalon thinks the item squish will go smoothly. They were anticipatory about the response with BlizzCon testing, but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive or no notice of the difference at all. Bay notes that if the item squish works correctly, it'll be like music in the movies -- it should not distract from the experience of the action around you.

Healing in Warlords of Draenor
Don't let Zarhym hear you say the bad T-word, but we're going back to a style of healing similar to Cataclysm, but without the bad parts, like being out of mana (OOM) all the time. The design goal is to make healing less one-dimensional and more varied in its toolkit use. Tank healing should gain more of a focus with the toning down of smart heals.

  • 5 = the magic number of healers in Mythic raiding
  • 4-6 = a good range for number of healers in Mythic raiding
  • The encounter tuning failed if a fight requires 7+ or only 1-3 healers.
  • Player health is doubled post-squish, to accommodate time to heal when below 100% health.
  • Tanks will have significantly more health than other raiders.
  • Incoming damage will be less burstier; encounters like Thok cannot exist in Warlords and mechanics like Durumu's maze phase would have much less damage taken.

Raidwide Defensive Cooldowns
The use of raid cooldowns to offset healing challenges is out of control now, and the developers want to bring the focus of the raid's health back to primarily healer territory. The goal is to create a standardized amount of raid defensive cooldowns, which involves mostly nerfing or removing existing cooldowns from DPS, with a few exceptions of adding cooldowns to other DPS (e.g. Amplify Magic for mages). Not every DPS spec will bring a defensive cooldown, but the goal is everybody will have something significant to bring to raid.

  • Nerfed: Anti-Magic Zone. Smoke Bomb. Demonic Gateway. Rallying Cry. 
  • Gone: Devotion Aura.
  • Added: Amplify Magic (mages). 1-hour-long Misdirection (hunters)
  • "Calm The Eff Down": It's alpha; numbers will be balanced later.

Bay says, "I'm excited to play a Warcraft base in my World of Warcraft." Zarhym's excited as well about the new expansion feature, but it's different from player housing as presented in other games. Garrisons will evolve as you level, tying into the story and quests, even altering how you experience some of the zones when you unlock certain buildings. The developers are keeping a close eye on whether and how Garrisons could affect progression raiders.

  • Choose Your Own Adventure style of building up your garrison.
  • Garrisons tie into questing story.
  • Unlocking a building fully will earn different perks for various zones per character.
  • Still debating how to approach garrisons regarding guild housing; garrisons will likely be restricted to parties only for now.
  • Zarhym is working with Lead Game Designer Cory Stockton on a 4-part blog series that will introduce garrisons further.

NEW! Melee & Positional requirements
As our hosts are two melee themselves, the favored question was: can we stop having bosses turn around so much? Celestalon replies: what if the boss turns around graphically, but it still mechanically counts as hitting it from behind?! Bay and Ana go wild with that answer! Fights with major boss-facing phases for melee can also have the 3% parry possibly turned off if it becomes that big of an issue.

Stats TL;DR

  • Hit and expertise are gone.
  • Bosses parry 3% from the front, to keep melee preferably behind the boss.
  • Melee aren't nerfed that much; the way weapon damage is calculated as part of the item squish got reworked, so it's just a numbers conversion.
  • Changing some skills from based on weapon damage to based on attack power will have a bigger impact than pure number tweaking.
  • The devs are shooting for a sweet spot between stat priorities, not equality of all stats for all specs.

Stacking buffs: movement speed and snares
The rules for movement speed buffs and debuffs are clarified by Celestalon:

  • Movement speed buffs are additive. Example: 30% buff meets another 30% buff = 60% total buff.
  • Snares (movement speed debuffs) are multiplicative.  Example: 150% movement speed meets a 50% snare = 80% movement speed now.
  • All self-only passive movement speed bonuses will stack.
  • Multiple shared or temporary movement speed bonuses can be applied at once, but do not stack. Highest one works while active.
  • Multiple snares do not stack, but follow the highest rule.
  • Movement speed bonuses won't overwrite each other. If a higher speed buff fades, the next highest speed buff is what the player moves at (until that fades, etc.).

Draenor Perks are not actually an offshoot of Path of the Titans. Path is a different project that is still on the idea board somewhere. You get all of the perks by level 99.

Profession & Racial Bonuses
Profession bonuses got removed because the min/maxing was detracting from the fun of professions. 

Celestalon says that the initial feedback from the racial changes was the obvious Alliance celebrations and Horde dismay, but as players thought about the imbalance and how the changes corrected some balance, the overall feedback became fairly positive. There are still some issues like Undead don't have any healer benefit, but the changes are still being looked over.

Zarhym lets us know that the new night elf racial is still sending controversial feedback to the developers. Both guests report that in today's world on live realms, the night elf racial can't exist, but in Warlords, the stats are closer together (remember: there aren't haste breakpoints anymore!), so the fluctuation isn't nearly so horrible.

Pruning spell effects
We'll talk about ability pruning below in the After Show, but one of the concerns right now by 25-man raiders, particularly melee, is the overload of spell effects that go on at any given time in a boss fight. Everything from the boss's animations to player cooldowns to guardian pets to healing effects to ground effects can really impact a raider's game by inserting video and input lag. Graphical (& audio!) overload is one of many reasons to prune abilities.

  • PvP players need/want to see all spell effects. PvE players, especially in the larger sized raids, want reduction in spell effect graphics.
  • There's going to be a priority system for both graphical spell effects and sound effects. 
  • Raiders need to see important floor fire, where healing circles are, their own animations, and possibly tanking AoE effects.
  • Guardian pets may be toned down or converted to ranged/caster pets.

Initial Raids in Warlords of Draenor
Did you really think a show about high endgame raiding is going to skip over questions about the opening raiding tier in Warlords? If only we could get Ion Hazzikostas, Lead Encounter Designer, on the show for an episode.

  • The first raid is Highmaul, comprising 7 bosses. It'll be released one week after the expansion starts, with Mythic to follow one week after that.
  • The next raid is Blackrock Foundry, with 10 total bosses released in a layout of 3 wings of 3 bosses each with 1 final boss.
  • There will be 3 world bosses: 1 to start, 1 released with Blackrock Foundry, and 1 after that.
  • There won't be any special, Mythic-only bosses (no Sinestra, no Ra-den).
  • ...but, Zarhym will leave us hanging by saying there are "some surprises in store." Oooooooh!

But what about the class questions?!
Don't worry -- we decided to put all the class-related Q&A in the After Show, so take a look below!

What's up with removing reforging?
Players should get excited about items dropping. Previously, some pieces didn't matter because customization could make up for it. 

Players can always tweak their gear with the original customization method: swapping pieces.

Is the lesser coin / bonus roll system staying?
Bonus rolls could be improved upon, but yes, they are sticking around.

What about the Valor Points upgrade system?
It's gone. It didn't work out as planned, since players got to a point with valor where you could always upgrade an item drop, and then raids would start a whole 6 levels higher than intended.

Then what are Valor Points going to be used for?
Celestalon dodged the question. That's for the itemization team!

Explain the primary stat switching on items when you change specs, please.
OK. Example: all plate items will have both strength and intellect listed. If you don't use strength, it will be greyed out for you; that is, you'll receive the intellect from the item instead. But if you switched to a spec that uses strength, or if you're a warrior and a holy paladin rolls on that item, you can see that the item is still valuable because it has both strength and intellect.

  • Plate will have strength/intellect.
  • Mail will have agility/intellect.
  • Leather will have agility/intellect.
  • (Cloth is always intellect, OK.)
  • Spirit will be greyed out for non-healers.
  • Bonus armor will be greyed out for non-tanks.

Celestalon adds this about stats and item enhancements:

  • Gems, enchants, and flasks will be all secondary stats.
  • Enchants will have various secondary stats per slot, so if you want a lot of haste, you can have a lot of haste.

What's up with tertiary stats?

  • Tertiary stats are little benefits, not for "catching white whales."
  • Next tier's regular gear should still win over last tier's items with good tertiary stat rolls.
  • Cleave is gone as a tertiary stat because it became a healer stat, since it was too situational for DPS and tanks.

Why is it bad for professions to give combat bonuses, but it's fine for racials to contribute to stats?
Racials feel like they should impact player power; they need to feel important to the gameplay in a roleplaying game (which is what World of Warcraft ultimately is, as an MMORPG). The game loses something if the racials are purely cosmetic.

How do moonkin feel / Will moonkin get many changes?

  • The devs are fairly happy with how moonkin work right now.
  • Moonkin problems right now are similar to shadow priests; they are lower on single target and higher on multi-target/multiDoT than they probably should be.
  • The Eclipse mechanic will continue to snapshot stats, but it's getting tweaked as well.
  • Moonkin AoE is being worked on so that it doesn't mess with the rotation rhythm as much.

Let's talk mobility: what's so special about hunters?!
Movement for ranged DPS is important to the balanced between melee and ranged. Moving is supposed to be a DPS loss, which turns it into a meaningful decision. The point is to be skillful about movement, not overpowered.

  • Biggest nerfs: elemental shaman (Lightning Bolt) and warlocks (Fel Flame)
  • Raid encounters will be tuned around movement becoming a big deal for ranged DPS.
  • For hunters, being able to cast while moving is a perk. A detriment would be that they are more dependent on pet DPS than others or having different cooldown mechanics.

Don't take away my iconic ability, bro!
The goal of pruning abilities is not to dumb down the game. The point is remove abilities that didn't matter, like stacking all your cooldowns together in one macro because why would you ever not use them all at once. There is mostly positive feedback from players over the abilities removed so far, with a few fervent exceptions. A main point players make is the loss of a gameplay feeling or a cosmetic that's been a class staple.

Current controversially removed abilities the devs are aware of:

  • Army of the Dead (DKs)
  • Eyes of the Beast (hunters)
  • Avenging Wrath aka Wiiiiings (paladins)
  • Drain Soul (warlocks)

Finally, Final Boss asks each guest what's thing they are most excited for in Warlords?

  • Zarhym: Garrisons! (I heard you like Warcraft, so we put some Warcraft in your World of Warcraft.)
  • Celestalon: New tech that makes the game more responsive.

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: - via Twitter: @finalbosstv #AskABoss & via Twitch Chat during the After Show!

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

- Poneria