Again, these aren't verbatim quotations from Ion and John, as I simply can't write that fast, but the overall statements are accurate representations of their responses.
Are there any encounters Blizzard have had to alter or leave out due to technical constraints?
There was a boss leading up to the Lich King who you had to heal (Valithria Dreamwalker), and that was a huge challenge for their existing technology. If you think about it, Ion explained, up to that point, every healing spell in the game was designed to be cast on a friendly target, that is to say, a player. So the devs were faced with the task of reworking every healing spell in the game. They didn't want players to only be able to use certain spells on her, as that would have been bad, so they redid every healing spell. The technical team changed the game's design so that the boss basically became a raid team member. Ion and John explained that it's all about working out creative ways to implement the designers' ideas.
But sometimes their methods didn't really work out. If you remember the Lady Vashj encounter, there was an object that appeared in your bag that had to be passed around the raid. Ion recalled that you had to open up your bag, locate the object, and use it. So people wrote macros for it, and that became the way players had to do it.
The devs had designed something where they were basically saying, "You have to use a macro to do this fight." So that gave rise to the button that you now see on fights like Ultraxion. On the Sha of Fear boss, John added, there's going to be a similar mechanic where you have to pass an object around, but there will be a button allowing you to throw it, so players won't need macros!
The dungeon journal was recently added to the game. Did the Devs think this is making it too easy for players?
Ion was very clear that they don't. He explained how resources like the dungeon journal have always existed, so unless you were the very first guild or group to be facing a boss, there was already that information out there. People would come onto the beta to datamine. They'd walk into the room and just let the boss kill them over and over to get information on abilities and the like, and then put them online. The dungeon journal is just Blizzard doing exactly that.
The designers try their best to avoid actual tactical advice, although it's hard -- it does get past them sometimes with the language you have to use to describe fights -- but their aim is just to present information on the abilities. John and Ion agreed that they prefer it if people aren't having to alt-tab out of the game to get information -- it's better if they can just open up the dungeon journal and see it right there.
However, Ion mentioned that there is the possibility that in the future, they may withhold certain bosses from beta or PTR testing and withhold them from the dungeon journal as well. It's far more of a challenge for Blizzard to test the content, but it's nice for players to have a surprise, even if it's only for a short while until the dataminers work it out.
Did Ion and John agree that there are things they failed to deliver on with Deathwing?
Both Ion and John accepted that. Ion clarified that the problem they had was that Deathwing was huge. He was as big as a city, so they had to work out a way that you could fight him. But, as Ion put it, "there was always a tentacle between you and the boss!"
For Madness, the designers could have gone with Deathwing standing there swiping at a tank, but they felt that had been done so many times before and wouldn't really work with his size, so the Madness fight was designed as we saw it. The devs do recognize, though, that that approach had its downsides, but they still think it worked really well. There was, Ion added, still the huge feeling of achievement when you downed him, even if it was done differently.
How did the team go about establishing when nerfs should start to come in?
Both were very clear that there's not a target number of people having completed it. What they do is monitor the amount of people completing the content. While the number keeps increasing, the content is left alone, but as soon as the numbers stop going up, they start to consider bringing in a nerf.
What usually happens is that when the content is released it's perhaps a bit overtuned. As was mentioned earlier, Blizzard don't like making content harder once it's released. So a few guilds will get through all of it, but many will get through a few bosses then hit a wall, and they just need a little extra to get through it. That's when a 5% nerf would come in.
What the design team want to avoid is what happened in Blackwing Lair where they were nerfing through hotfixes as the fights progressed. Ion recounted how it was frustrating to arrive for a raid night and be thinking, "I wonder if they've nerfed this ability yet so we can actually kill the boss or whether it's still impossible?" So the model of the overall 5% nerf is preferred, as it's far more predictable.
What influenced the number of bosses or raids in a tier?
John clarified that it's mostly art resources that limit the size and number of raids and the number of bosses. The problem Blizzard had is that the art team is quite small, so the team who are working on designing raids are also working on quests, dungeons and zones, and there's a finite amount that those guys can achieve. Ion assured us that they do see that it's good to have different progression paths, as it's really frustrating to hit a wall.
In every previous expansion, there's been an obvious end boss who we're fighting, but in Mists of Pandaria, that seems to be missing.
Both immediately said there are definitely end bosses in Mists, giving the example that the end boss of 5.0 is the Sha of Fear, and the Sha are the enemy. There were some clues that Garrosh might be the ultimate fight, although that's no guarantee.
John explained that Mists of Pandaria is more about a return to the roots of Warcraft: exploration and discovery, trying to get players out in the world, so they're trying to shift slightly away from the obvious end-boss model.
There are also single-player scenarios planned for the future, although not for 5.0, where you could see how long you can fight off a group of mobs or how long you can heal a group of NPCs for healers.
In the past, a lot of old bosses have reappeared. Is this likely in Mists?
Both agreed that that was unlikely. In the past, it's always been because it's fitted into the lore to have bosses reappear, but it doesn't look so much like that this will be the case in the future. But you never know!
Raid finder was a new feature for Cataclysm, which had a very mixed reception. Were there plans to update it in Mists, and if so, how?
Ion explained that, in Cataclysm, raid finder wasn't actually a separate difficulty setting. It was the normal difficulty 25-man raid with an invisible debuff -- they didn't have the technology yet to make it a whole new difficulty setting. However, in 5.0, LFR will be a completely separate difficulty setting, and this gives Blizzard a lot more freedom.
Raid finder, Ion continued, is meant to give players who don't have access to other raiders through a guild or otherwise a way to see the content, but he recognizes that it became part of the gearing path, which wasn't what was wanted. He said he would not, for example, make the later loot drops a half-tier improvement from Firelands heroic gear again -- that was a mistake, as it made the gear unquestionably better than the previous tier's heroic items. Another problem that they had was that as the last tier of the expansion, Dragon Soul gear was really good. As Ion explained, they really went to town with the stats, making them almost perfect, and the procs were really, really good too.
He went on to say that in Mists, the item level of the raid finder loot is designed so it's not appealing to players who have the last tier's heroic loot. They've also made some big changes to the loot system to make it less easy to exploit for groups or guilds, and are slowing the introduction of LFR itself. Ion explained how it's broken into sections, the first of which is released one week after the raid itself opens, then the next a week later and so on. So raid finder gearing will hopefully not be anywhere near as appealing.
But Ion was very keen to point out that there's a really important part of raid finder that people who don't like it have to recognize. When Blizzard know millions of players will see content, it makes it easier for them to justify allocating resources to it.
[Ion emailed us a correction: John was referencing Kel'Thuzad in Vanilla Naxxramas, and that figure applies specifically to the time period prior to the 2.0 patch that introduced the Burning Crusade expansion.In other words, only ~3k people ever finished Classic WoW's final raid tier while it was relevant content. Many more people than that killed the final boss of Karazhan, which was our first 10-player raid and thus much more accessible to a broader population.
The fact that so few people saw the final raid tier of Classic WoW, let alone its conclusion, was a major factor in the conscious move away from a pure progression system, and towards the introduction of catch-up mechanics such as the Badge gear in Burning Crusade and Wrath and Justice gear today, so that players who didn't complete the prior raid tier can still experience the new content offered in each successive patch.]
It's really hard, both agreed, to justify putting the huge resources that a raid takes up into something less than 0.1% of players will experience.
It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!