Press Tour: Interview with Ion Hazzikostas
Last Thursday we participated in European Press Tour for Warlords of Draenor and Reaper of Souls. Thanks to Blizzard Community Team we were able to interview Ion Hazzikostas, Lead Encounter Designer for World of Warcraft. Below you can find some most interesting information from interview as well as a full transcript of our conversation with Ion.
- Success of Flexible raid in 5.4 greatly influenced Blizzard's decision to create new raid structure for Warlords of Draenor.
- Blizzard is very excited about single highest difficulty - it will end 10man vs. 25man heroic debate and unify the world first race.
- Silver Medal in Proving Grounds might become a requirement for queuing for LFD and LFR.
- Garrosh will not be a boss in Warlords of Draenor. He was just a catalyst for the events that happened on Draenor, but players already defeated him in Siege of Orgrimmar.
- Current plan is to have three world bosses available after the game is released, though they will not be released all at once.
- One of the World Bosses is a giant ancestor of the gronn race. His skin is made out of stone and he has a power to control the earth.
- After using character boost feature, new characters might get an introductionary experience, but it will happen only in Warlords of Draenor. It will work similar to Death Knight starting experience - in the beginning the Player will have an access only to few core abilities of his class, then he'll unlock more after completing quests.
- When Character Boosts goes live in Mists of Pandaria, it will not offer any "class learning process".
How much the changes in raid structure were influenced by good reception of Flexible raids in Mists of Pandaria?
It was pretty strongly influenced. We were optimistic going into 5.4 but Flexible turned out to be better than we expected. One of the interesting things when we were testing Flexible raiding for Siege of Orgrimmar on the Public Test Realm; the initial couple of versions of those fights were actually probably over-tuned compared to what's live now. I remember that there were couple of semi-organized guilds that were having some difficulty with fights. When we were play-testing them we were like "this actually feels like normal mode, except there's seventeen of us". And it felt fine. This was the first time when we started to seriously consider "hey, it doesn't have to be just an easier difficulty, we can extend the structure and make it how the raiding works". I'm really excited to see how it's gonna work out in Warlords of Draenor.
With the mythical difficulty being added in Warlords of Draenor, are you expecting to see more competitive race for world and server first kills? It will also remove whole 10-man vs. 25-man discussion.
I think it will certainly increase the level of competition because right now you have the best players in the world divided into two separate groups and two separate races. And it was never clear who is really better. On high end talk about Paragon went to 10-player difficulty for example whereas Method is still doing 25. Who's really better? Back in Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm we knew the answer for that questions because they were doing the same mode and now we don't. I think it's really exciting to see 10-player guilds growing back up to 20 - some old guilds that were broken up are reforming for Warlords of Draenor. I think it's gonna be a fun race.
Is it easier to revamp an old dungeon like Blackrock Spire than create a totally new one?
From the design perspective I think they both offer same kind of challenges. We aren't taking already existing bosses and just changing the numbers. As you have seen in Deadmines or Scholomance, Zul'gurub or whatever, we are pretty much rebuilding the dungeon from the ground up - we are trying to build new encounters with a little bit of that nostalgia elements and players' fond memories from the original version of the dungeon from back in the day. The only thing that makes it a little bit faster is that we don't need to wait on the art creation for the dungeon from scratch. We have the rooms to work with. We'll modify them and update as needed for encounters but at least we have a starting point.
Can you provide some new details about new world bosses?
Sure. I think they are gonna be reflections of some of the largest and brutal creatures that you see in Draenor. One of the bosses is a Fomor (?) which is a pretty much an ancestor of the larger version of gronn. Gronn like Gruul that you saw in Outland. The Fomor is even larger version being 3 or 4 times bigger, being actually made of of stone. He has the mystical power over the stone and earth. He can put his hand down the ground and spikes or fist of stone comes out from the ground in response. That's going to be one of them. There're huge plant-creatures that live in the jungles in more forest areas of Draenor. We call them the Genesaur (?). They walk on four legs and wear huge weapons of size of tree trunks. Another one of those is going to be a world boss. We want to highlight some of the most unique creatures in Draenor that are too large to encounter them normally in the quest. We are also looking to unlock world bosses over time over the course of 6.0. We are currently aiming for three world bosses but they might be just one available from the start. He will drop gear that is equivalent to Highmaul gear, but second and third world bosses that unlock later one in 6.0 will drop better quality gear. That way we can keep them relevant as players are doing more raid content on different difficulty without risking obsoleting the actual raid bosses that are in the instances.
How do you approach the design for a raid fight? Even if you come up with a specific mechanic - how do you make the boss cohesive with the feeling of the raid zone?
Sometimes we start with a very specific mechanic that we want to build the fight around but much more often we start with a concept of what's the story behind this zone is going to be. We often just know what final boss is going to be for example. In Throne of Thunder we knew that the final boss is going to be Lei Shen, he is the mogu emperor that returned and other than that it is his fortress of the Isle of Thunder and the rest is up to us to fill in. First step is to figure out what would be cool bosses to fight. We wanted to have some variety there; we knew we wanted to have some trolls at the start because the Zandalari trolls work with mogu. We knew we wanted to have some non-humanoid creatures to break up just troll-troll-troll-mogu-mogu-mogu. That's why we added more natural cavernous middle section to the raid. We fall underground and that let us have an excuse to fight just mutated beasts, things that weren't just humanoids.
Once we have a list of bosses, we as a team have a series of brainstorm meetings which are actually some of most fun part of the job. We'll get in the room for 30-40 minutes per boss and just throw around the ideas; "ok, you are fighting a giant bird that's living in this vertical shaft. What can elements of this fight be like? Then we start talking about it; well, maybe you can fly like on Alysrazor in Firelands; get a feather from boss and that will let you fly around. What's the purpose of flying? Are there adds you have to fly to and defeat? No, combat in the air is actually not that fun. What if there are nests scattered around the wall and there are eggs in those nests, so you have to fly there and destroy the eggs before they hatch. That was the basis of idea for Ji'kun fight in the Throne of Thunder. We walk out from that meeting after 30-40 minutes with a basic overview of that fight structure but not with knowledge of all individual abilities that will be in. The next step is to find out which designer will be working on that fight and usually it's based on how interested they are in specific fight. I'll ask the team who wants to work on this boss and usually one or two people will be excited about that fight and they take it. They work on all individual abilities and fight mechanics which we then discuss further, get feedback and then final step is to implement it, playtest it and go through tuning process.
With Siege of Orgrimmar being raid tier, aren't you a little bit worried that Horde players visit Orgrimmar a little bit too often?
In terms of raid zone feeling fresh for them, right? There's something to be said for fatigue of seeing the same place but on the other hand I heard from many Horde players that it's kind of cool to be fighting a raid boss in the city that is very familiar to you and the setting where you spend so much doing other content, whereas Alliance players don't have that emotional attachment. For them it's just another layout, another space. For Horde, you are fighting in front of the auction house. You are fighting a boss near the auction house where your character spend so many hours before. It has its own upsides and downsides.
Which raid will be available after launch of Warlords of Draenor and which will be released after that.
Highmaul raid is the ogre raid located at the western end of Nagrand with seven bosses that will be available not immediately on day one, I think the second week of the expansion. We're gonna do something that we did with a structure in Mists of Pandaria, where we delayed Mogu'shan Vaults to give players time to level and not to feel pressured to just rush to do a raid in the first lockout. So Highmaul will unlock in the second week and few weeks after that, the Blackrock Foundry in Gorgrond will open up and that's another ten bosses there. LFR will be gated like we usually do it with wings unlocking progressively that's just because we want organized guild players to get a chance to see bosses for the first time with their friends and guilds before they do it in the LFR.
Should we expect to fight Garrosh in Warlords of Draenor?
Garrosh will be around but I don't think... we have really no plans to fight Garrosh again. That's the fight the players have already had and they have won. I don't think there's really much appetite for Garrosh to be a boss you face off again. We see him more as a catalyst who set these events in motion than a true villain that we want to continue building upon. There are other characters, there's no lack of Warlords that need to be fought and killed.
Which encounter is the most interesting for you?
It's very difficult to pick just one since there're so many types of the encounters. My favorite from the Mists of Pandaria is probably Lei Shen in Throne of Thunder. There's a certain elegance to its' design where it's a handful of simple abilities but the way they interact with each other as they level; the choice on which you want to keep active or disable it created a complex and a challenging fight but there's no list of fifty mechanics you have to learn.
Do you have already a favorite encounter in Warlords?
I think it's probably too early to say. Think we have a lot of very cool ideas, many fights are already implemented but until we start testing them on the Public Test Realm it's hard to pick one just yet.
Some fights offer additional challenge for individual players. We don't see too many fights that work like Teron Gorefiend in Black Temple where one person could ruin the encounter if he didn't do ghosts properly.
Arguably a lot of people criticized Amber Shaper Un'sok in Heart of Fear for being more or less that.
How do you decide if those mechanics should be a part of an encounter? Personally I like those individual challenges, but I remember a lot of people in my guild willing to sit out for Teron Gorefiend just because of that.
Exactly. People with consistent strong guild-mates tend to enjoy those fights. It's very frustrating when you see a specific person being targeted by that ability. You see the name... and you just know. Before anything happened, you know who was targeted and you know it will go wrong. And that's always frustrating. There's a lot of room for individual responsibility and letting people test their skills. I think there's few different ways of doing that kind of a mechanic. One, that we tend to do more often is to allow the players who want to participate in that activity or who raid leader nominates to do that to be the one to do it. Like doing assembly lines on Siegecrafter Blackfuse in Siege of Orgrimmar. You just send people who want that challenge and additional responsibility. Another situation and Amber Shaper Un'sok is a great example of that; we wanted to have something that the whole raid needs to learn but I think the big mistake we made was not giving players a chance to practice or learn what to do beforehand. If I could go back and do that over, I think we would put some additional mechanic on the thrash before the boss to let you turn into the Construct to let you understand what the buttons were and what you had to do there. I think it's reasonable to expect players to learn, but it's not fair to expect them to learn suddenly with no advanced warning, in the middle of the raid with their UI changing and a whole new set of responsibilities out of the blue.
What are the mistakes that you made in Mists of Pandaria that you don't want to make in Warlords of Draenor?
Let's see. In terms of raids in particular I think we can change is to make our raids much less linear. I think we have really large and epic raid zones like Throne of Thunder and Siege of Orgrimmar with many, many bosses but ultimately they are just a straight line from start to finish. You can't choose you path through them at all. Looking back to raids like Ulduar, Icecrown Citadel and Blackwing Descent; one of the advantages of those raids were from the pure emersion perspective, raids that are not a straight line feel more real as opposed to being a dungeon that you're being led through from a to b to c. Secondly from the progression perspective, some night you might not have a roster to do a specific boss, then you could do a different one. Or maybe you think you want to work on this boss before the other one. When everything is linear, you don't have an ability to do that while with winged layout you can. We are looking to have raid structure created more non-linearly in Warlords of Draenor. Separately another thing I would like to change heavily involved with class mechanics. I thin healing in particular at this point of Mists of Pandaria isn't as interesting as it could be. There are a lot of smart heals and AoE heals that go on and the power of heals relative to player's health pools is really high. So when we want to damage the players we have to practically kill you in order to make it at all threatening. We can do like 80% of entire raid's health in damage and whole raid gets topped off by Halos, Healing Rain and five other things going on. From the healers perspective, with so much healing going on, automatic smart heal procs etc. that your individual choices don't feel meaningful. Going to encounter design and class design in Warlords of Draenor, I think we're looking to slow down the pace of healing a little bit, to make some of the choices more deliberate so you're back in the place of choosing the right spell for the right target and the situation instead of just spam, spam, spam.
And with constant struggle between melee vs ranged dps. How are you planning to address some of the issues related to it in Warlords of Draenor?
We would like to do that. We definitely keep melee vs range balances in mind and when we are designing encounter mechanics we ask ourselves to make sure we are not making them too punishing for melee if you bring a lot of them to your raid. I think a lot of it lies on class design however. I think historically one of the core benefits of being a melee dps was that you could do almost your full damage while moving and ranged couldn't. Suddenly boss is being kited around the room or something you have to move out of; melee doesn't mind, they just strafe along and keeps doing all their rotation while for example mage had to stop casting completely, he could maybe cast a fireblast once and that's it. In Mists of Pandaria, so many ranged classes like Hunter, Warlock, Elemental Shaman, Fire Mage can do a large portion of their damage without moving. We are looking to scale down some of the casting-while-moving in Warlords of Draenor and also looking to make sure that melee have some usefulness. You know, interrupts were always something that melee were good at but also cleave damage and AoE. We have enough of different things that happen regularly to make you want to bring a melee class to your raid.
Can you share some details regarding the update of Proving Grounds feature?
Proving Grounds are the feature we are planning to update for Walords of Draenor. We want to provide a challenge that scales its' difficulty and doesn't really depend on your gear. That let's players learn basics of certain role; like how to tank or how to heal and challenges them on the high level scale after you've earned a gold medal and you want to see how far you can get in Endless Mode. We are going to update Proving Grounds and will continue to expand them. We are also exploring of using the feature as a way for the players to prove themselves before they can participate in certain types of activities. For example we might say that if you want to queue for Heroic Dungeon in Warlords of Draenor you need to have Silver in Proving Grounds - if you want to use random matchmaking. If you want to go with a premade group of your friends, there's no requirement, no big deal. But for random matchmaking there's a minimum threshold we would like you to reach. But then we need to make sure that if we go down that road we can teach you how to reach that threshold, what you can do to improve. We want to use Proving Grounds as a way for players to learn how to play their class better and I think it will lead to an overall better experience in our random matchmaking content, because if you will be in LFD or LFR you will have better experience if everyone is presenting certain level of competence.
This will be available at launch?
During BlizzCon you've mentioned a scenario in which players that use Character Boost will learn their class. There's no word on that and Character Boost will be available with Warlords of Draenor presales. Any word on that feature?
We have recognized that when you boost your character to level 90 and we give you all of your spells and abilities it's gonna be overwhelming and you won't know what you are supposed to cast, how you are supposed to use your abilities. The current plan is to actually when you boost an existing character to take away some of your abilities and if you are a new one, we will only give you few at the start. We'll unlock your abilities progressively. Imagine that you boost a mage, you will start with maybe fireball, frost nova and polymorph. Once you complete some quests, go through the introductory experience of Warlords of Draenor, you will unlock few more abilities and then few more. Kind of like Death Knight starting zone works where we only give you few buttons to begin with and then we give you more as you gain more experience.
So it will happen only in Warlords of Draenor. What about boost pre-expansion?
Yes, that's true. Part of it is just a limitation of creating that sort of system and the fact that we want to offer an ability to boost as soon as possible but we don't have that content currently in Mists of Pandaria. It's also the fact that most people boosting currently in Mists are going to be existing players who will use it just to get another max level alt or that sort of thing. We recognize that it is a danger and it's crucial that players don't get overwhelmed when they come out of boost.