Gameplanet: What precipitated the removal of spell power, defense and similar item statistics?
Greg Street: The problem was that we had these competing stats, like intellect and spell power. Intellect didn’t really do much except affect the mana pool for spell casters, so it wasn’t super-exciting for them. Spell power is what they really cared about on their gear and we felt that instead of having one lame stat and one exciting stat, let’s just make them the same thing.
We removed armor penetration because it was just not balanceable. It was a thing where the more you got the better it was going to be and it was just never going to work out.
A stat like defense: Instead of being something exciting that tanks could try to gear for it felt like a barrier to entry so that they couldn’t even do their job until they hit some magic number.
So we just tried to get rid of anything that was problematic like that. Our philosophy is to try and make gear as widely attractive to lots of different types of characters. We want dropping a piece of gear to be exciting, we want players to make a choice about it, rather than having players say, ‘Well, this boss has one item I want and this boss has one item I want’ and feeling like the choices are limited.
Gameplanet: Can you talk us through the removal of the Path system, where exactly did it fail?
Street: Yeah, so World of Warcraft is a very complicated game. We have a lot of new players trying the game out every day and we think that Cataclysm will be an opportunity for a lot of players who haven’t played in a while to return to the game.
I described it recently this way: We have a designer on another team who plays WoW a lot but he took a break for a month or two to play Modern Warfare 2. When he came back he discovered in the meantime that we had reset all his talents and we had changed the functionality of some of his spells. And he said ‘you know, I know the game really well, but it was really hard to get back into it. I had to do a lot of research before I felt ready to play again.’ Feedback like that made us think hard about where the game was going and the kind of complexity that we were adding with every expansion.
When WoW was designed, the designers thought that it might last two or three years. Now it’s clearly going to be continuing on for a long time and we need to be thinking about the future, not just [Cataclysm patch] 4.0, but also 5.0 and maybe there’s going to be a ninth or tenth expansion some day, and those designers will still have to manage all this stuff. So we’re really focusing now on polishing what we already have in the game, making it exciting, having things that didn’t quite work out – rather just adding more and more new features. Blizzard really believes the maxim of “concentrated coolness.”
We’d rather have a few things with a lot of depth than just a lot of different things. With that in mind, we sat down and really tried to simplify the Path system and we realized we were taking out almost everything except for this idea of making glyphs cooler because glyphs really didn’t live up to what they could’ve been.
So we wanted to revamp the glyph system and realised, ‘why are we spending all this time on the Path system when what we really want to do is fix glyphs up. So once we made that decision, we thought, ‘we still really like the idea of paths, we still like the idea of having some kind of endgame progression, more character customisation, we really like the way it ties into the lore and the history of the world’ – so we might do it someday.
We have “Dance Studios” and other things on the wish list and never quite get to it, but still like the idea.
Gameplanet: Going on to that idea of “ease of information,” one of the takeaways from this morning appears to be removing the necessity of third party websites.
Gameplanet: Is this something you’ve been focusing on?
Street: Oh absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with third-party sites, we love those guys and they’ve been very loyal to us! But we also feel like the game needs to stand on its own.
The original philosophy was more ‘we’ll just throw all this stuff at players and they’ll figure out through trial and error how things work.’ They’ll figure out, for example, that some rogue abilities work better with daggers and others are really designed to work with other melee weapons, but the game never tells you that, you’re kind of supposed to look at the numbers and analyse it and know.
That just doesn’t feel like a game from 2010, you know? It feels like a game from the ’80s or ‘90s. So we’re really taking the step to have the game speak to players and say, “this is the intent, this is what you’re supposed to be doing here.”
So now when you level, for example, it says [in so many words], “You want to visit your class trainer and here’s what you’ll get if you do.” Before, there was really no way to know that and players would haphazardly visit their trainers and discover they’d travelled half way across the world and there was nothing to train.
Gameplanet: How exactly has the glyph system been upgraded?