Olivia Grace interviews Tom Chilton and Cory Stockton on patch 5.4 and the next expansion
Tomorrow, the march to Garrosh Hellscream begins. After months of build-up in World of Warcraft, we’ll finally have the chance to ransack his fortress and put the tyrannical Warchief down for good. For the Mists of Pandaria expansion, Hellscream’s demise marks the end of a chapter.
But what happens next? While roaming through Gamescom, I met up with Talk Azeroth host Olivia Grace as she interviewed lead game designer Tom Chilton and lead content designer Cory Stockton. During the conversation, they discussed some of the upcoming content and reflected back on Mists overall.
There were also a few teasers on the next expansion, although we’re eagerly anticipating Blizzcon in November to find out all the details.
Olivia Grace: Patch 5.4 has been pushed back 2 weeks. Can you tell us why?
Tom Chilton: It was mostly for the encounter tuning, since we had the addition of the flex raid difficulty, more encounters to tune and so on.
Back in Wrath of the Lich King, we actually supported four difficulties – 10 normal, 10 heroic, 25 normal, 25 heroic – and when we went to Cataclysm we actually shrank down to fewer difficulties.
As a result, we don’t feel we’ve ever really satisfied the audience of casual or friends-and-family type of raid. So we’re really hoping that Flex Raid does that, and does it better than we’ve done before.
Grace: Has flex raiding affected encounter design?
Cory Stockton: I would say it hasn’t really affected the way we do the encounters; it’s affected the way we have to create the rules for flex.
The way flex works is, on each individual member when they join or leave, we actually dynamically change the boss. That can even happen between wipes – if two guys leave and don’t come back, the boss drops automatically. That can be hit points, the amount of damage they do, or the number of adds they summon. All those things we set up with a rules set, and then procedurally we’ll do that across the board, based on the rules set up for what we want to happen.
Grace: One of the things we talked about is raids getting suddenly harder. Say you step up from 14 to 15 and suddenly there’s an additional add or debuff. How do you get around that?
Chilton: Well, I wouldn’t say that we’ve really gotten around it; there certainly are those step changes in encounters. But when those happen, the hit point and damage scaling don’t matter as much. Those definitely are more significant, but we try to err in favor of the player and, by the time those step changes happen, they should have more than enough players to handle the encounter.
We feel that part of what makes it work is that flex difficulty doesn’t have to be on the razor’s edge of balance. We think it would be much more difficult for us to apply it to normal or heroic raids. Depending on how people like the concept we may try extending it to normal raids, but we’re sceptical that we would be able to get it to work for heroic.
We’re not interested in it being ‘the right answer for this boss is to bring 12 people, then you can bring the rest of the raid to the next boss where you need 19, and after that you’re going to have to ditch four guys.’
Stockton: In heroics they already stack classes for individual fight and stuff, so there’s so much to worry about already.
Grace: One of the things that have fansites excited is the flex, normal and heroic heirlooms. Are you going to be using push loot for those?
Chilton: Just for those items.
Grace: So, say I go in with a priest but I have a paladin alt. How will that work?
Chilton: The way it works is that the first one that drops will be for your specific class and spec, with whatever loot spec you have selected. And so you’re guaranteed that the first one is presumably the one you want the most. And then, only the ones after that will be random within whatever class and spec.
Grace: So if a Paladin wants a holy and a ret one, do they get the holy one and then hope for the best?
Chilton: Yep, or you can bring the other character.
Grace: Siege of Orgrimmar arrives in mid-September, and then Blizzcon two months later. Mists of Pandaria had a six month beta, so we’re worried about raiding the same instance for eight months.
Chilton: We do have another content patch planned between the next expansion and 5.4, although exactly how far away it is from the expansion, we don’t know yet. But that’ll be the story transition between patch 5.4 and the next expansion. At the same time, we’re releasing content more quickly. We’re doing everything we can to make the cycle for this next expansion be as short as it can be. Ultimately, quality will trump that, so we’ll see.
Grace: So we’re looking at a smaller beta cycle for 6.0 than Mists of Pandaria?
Chilton: It seems unlikely that we’d have a shorter beta cycle.
Grace: Lore-wise, how do you think that players have reacted to the absence of a big bad wolf in Mists of Pandaria? Do you think that players need a bad guy?
Stockton: I think we definitely started off like that, and it’s something that we realized pretty quickly that we wanted to reinforce strongly during the patch cycle. We knew that Garrosh was going to be the final raid boss, and we wanted to build him up in a way. He was doing things that were really causing people to not like him, and I think we saw that in 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3.
We really tried to build that up all the way to the point of the Veil stuff that’s going on in 5.4, where we made the decision to make that be permanent. That’s not something that exists in an instance – he’s actually destroyed the Veil, taking the Golden Lotus with him. That was something we realised we definitely wanted to reinforce, the importance of a factor like that.
But also the way that Pandaria felt like a bit of a vacation, a breather, instead of ‘The world’s going to end, I have to save it in the final raid.’ We wanted to break the cycle a little bit, but we also know how important it is to have the big bad guy who the players want to kill and get loot from.
Grace: Will you be moving back to that in 6.0?
Chilton: We will have some world-ending stuff coming.
Stockton: There’s some Warcraft we definitely want to embrace.
Grace: How do you respond to criticisms about the Alliance lore side of this expansion?
Chilton: Some of it is legitimate, in that I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of building up some of the Alliance heroes, and that’s something we intend to focus on as time goes on. I think it’s very important that we represent both sides reasonably well. In many ways, the Horde thing has just been easier to develop for.
Grace: We’ve really run the gamut of different end-game play styles in WoW, with the pendulum swinging back and forth in each expansion. What have you learned from this vast breadth of content?
Chilton: I think what we’ve learned is that Mists of Pandaria was very successful in creating a lot of different things for players to do. We were off-target on some of the tuning, in the dailies feeling too mandatory, there being too many of them.
We’ll find that right middle-ground, I think that the Timeless Isle in Patch 5.4 is going to be an interesting experiment in how some in-game content in the future might play out. It’s very possible that there’ll be tuning and adjusting to do with what we learn from the Timeless Isle. But there’s a sweet-spot in the middle somewhere.
Grace: Speaking of the Timeless Isle, how did that come about? It’s such a departure from what you guys have done in the past.
Stockton: I think we wanted to do something that really recaptured that sense of exploration. It’s something that WoW had originally; you’d go to a zone, there were so many and you didn’t have to play every one to level. You could go to a unique place and discover something new. And over time we lost some of that because the game became very linear. It was just quest-quest-quest, you always knew the goal, and you would know the reward.
I think that’s a big part of it, to try and recapture some of that in a way that feels fresh. The idea that we’ve got all these random spawns, we’ve got random treasure chests all over the place, and we’ve got these events that can happen. You can trigger these events, but you can actually be rewarded with the loot correctly now. So it’s personal loot, nobody can come up and steal it from you, or hold the treasure chest open, things like that.
It’s really an opportunity to try something fresh, but also has some of the things we’ve learned, like Tom mentioned from the way our game has moved forward.
Grace: Transmog hats have had a bit of a mixed reaction. How did you see that working?
Chilton: I certainly think they’ve been successful, in that the number of hats sold justifies them. Although, at the same time, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the direction that we go with them, in that we don’t ever want to be in a situation where the gear that you can buy on the store feels like it’s competing with going through a raid to get the epic-looking armour set.
I think it worked reasonably well for it to be a one-off thing, but I think we’d have to be very careful about going down the road of creating entire armour sets like that. I can see doing things that are more fun or cosmetic, like a tuxedo or whatever. Things like that.
Grace: Have you seen much success from the big bowl of PvP changes that have happened in Mists? How do you think that’s gone?
Chilton: I think there are a lot of changes that are pushing us in the right direction, but we’re still ironing out some of the wrinkles of it. I think it works overall to do the item level capping. We want people to bring the raid gear into PvP, but not end up dominating or anything like that.
Grace: We did a study on gear recently, and it seems kind of crazy at the moment. Are you planning to do anything about it?
Stockton: You should see the spread sheets, the way we look at the gear…
Chilton: The biggest problem that we have right now is that the player can’t easily tell what their best piece of gear is, and that’s something that we have to do a better job of. We have to find a better way of communicating to the player what the ‘PvP item level’ is. I think you can expect us to try and address that at some point.
Grace: In terms of PvE gear as well, are there some sort of changes planned?
Chilton: Not as much to PvE gear, although we still question all the time whether or not item level is really the right way to express the endgame progression.
Huge thanks to Olivia Grace for having me along, and to Tom Chilton and Cory Stockton for their time. Don’t forget to head over to our sister site Wowhead for all the latest Warcraft news!
Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor
Follow me on Twitter @Gazimoff