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Ghostcrawler on the evolution of rotation complexity

Matthew Rossi

Yet again, a forum discussion of a singular topic (blood DK tanks and their diseaseless rotation, as discussed by our own Daniel Whitcomb last week) has led to some really fascinating perspectives on how the game is designed, how "intended" rotations were and will be discovered, and how much room there is to allow or discourage variant builds and rotations. Poster Deathsaint opened the discussion with the subject of relearning rotations, something we discussed last week in terms of DPS spec design. Things got interesting fast.

Ghostcrawler - Re: GC: Blood Tanking Instructions?
You are missing the point of that quote. It is not "players shouldn't have choices," as many of you are inferring. It's that "there should be more thought on the part of the designers for how various abilities are supposed to be used and those roles should be more apparent to players."

There has never really been a time in the game when you could just do whatever you wanted with your class and be equally effective. Then, as now, smart players doing a lot of homework would figure out the most optimized way to play. You can choose to follow their recommendations, try to find an even more optimized way to play, or just do your own thing because that's more enjoyable for you, knowing that you may pay the price of being less optimized.

What's interesting here is the change in emphasis.

There are two separate and interesting ideas being held forth here. The first is that talent trees shouldn't be a sink-or-swim, figure-it-out-kid phenomenon. After six years, World of Warcraft isn't that game that debuted in 2004, in which the talents were there and people just had to play with them to see what they did. "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.'"

In essence, that original philosophy has been superseded by the past five and a half years. There are sites and resources out there that people consult to help them make talent choices and decisions anyway. Why not work this attitude into the game itself, so that through gameplay, people will start to be informed about how and why to spec their characters?

In essence, the goal here is transparency. While there will always be a need for more detailed information to help players come to grips with things, in Cataclysm, the design is intended to help fill in some of the gaps and to guide players to understand the systems and their interaction. In order to do that, the developers are thinking not just about how the talents intersect, but also how easy it is for players to see how they intersect.

I find that fascinating, but it's hardly the only tidbit to mull over from that initial post.

Ghostcrawler - Re: GC: Blood Tanking Instructions?
In the case of "diseaseless Blood," we don't have a problem if tanks choose to sacrifice some of their threat generation for a simpler rotation or other benefits. It doesn't bother us unless ignoring diseases becomes the only reasonable way to play (and with Outbreak available in Cataclysm, applying diseases is even easier). When dps specs were ignoring diseases, we made changes, because the whole DK rotation was based on applying diseases. That's true to a much lesser extent for tanks, but we try to have pretty simple rotation for tanks anyway because they have a lot of other things to worry about and are often having to deal with very dynamic situations compared to what a PvE dps DK might be doing.

The idea of the design of a spec and its "allowability" based on outside factors is one worth contemplating. Of course, the discussion here is in part about whether or not diseaseless blood actually is (as is stated here) a sacrifice of threat generation. (My gut feeling is that yes, it absolutely is over the long haul, but it has much better snap threat since it's faster to get started. But Outbreak might well change the whole playing field.)

But more important is the idea that a DPS rotation might see adjustment whereas a tanking one wouldn't, because a tanking rotation is intended to be simpler and less elaborate. DPS rotations are made complex because making those choices to max your DPS is part of the gameplay, but tanking involves factors like placement, threat generation, and survivability management that are already demanding a great deal of the player's attention. In other words, making a DPS rotation more complex results in more engaging play for a DPS player, but making a tanking rotation more complex does not always reward with more fun because tanks are already stretched in more directions at once.

What this leads to is a discussion of just how much effort should the developers even be putting into this process.

Ghostcrawler - Re: GC: Blood Tanking Instructions?
Q u o t e:
You ever consider whether or not people liked the old design philosophy? I know I did, and a lot of my friends did too. It made the world much more mysterious and you got to explore your options, rather than feeling pigeon holed into a spec or rotation or whatever. Though I do realize this is fairly trivial since players will figure out what the best stats and rotation are and tell you what they are anyway, but it just feels like blizzard is late jumping on the band wagon, one that I kinda wished they hadn't jumped on.

That was my point in my post above though. That sense of exploration and discovery you are missing wasn't lost as a result of anything we did. You could make an excellent or terrible talent tree before and you can still do so now. What changed is that the community became a lot more sophisticated, which isn't that surprising in a game that's 6-years old now. These days there are numerous fansites, simulators, videos, mods and other tools, all created by the community, to optimize your gameplay. There have always been some, but there are more today, they are more sophisticated, and more players know about them.

In essence, the attempt to improve the game's design is taking into account the community that grew out of the original design philosophy. In essence, again we see a sign of an expansion that is attempting to look at what World of Warcraft has become after five years and to design itself around those elements.

The idea is that people should be able to make nominal guesses as to what their best talents will be based on the in-game experience; that deeper theorycrafting will come into play after players have learned the basics; and that this time, the game itself will be where players learn those basics of what to spec into. While the "throw them in the deep end and see if they swim" method was exciting for some and led to the creation of the community as it now exists, it was also a barrier to entry for people, because in order to really grasp talents and how to spend those points, many players really needed to go to an out-of-game source first. This change is an attempt to have design that gives players that first step through play, while still taking advantage of the work of those who will sit down and suss out optimal builds.

Likewise, the development of the talents and abilities needs to have a certain level of difficulty shared across different trees and classes. Diseaseless blood, to keep using that example, might be fine for a tank but not for DPS. Why?

Ghostcrawler - Re: GC: Blood Tanking Instructions?
Q u o t e:
However, there has been plenty of times that you've looked at the theorycrafted "optimal" playstyle, and decided to kill it. I believe that one of the largest concerns with diseaseless tanking was that this would be one of those areas, particularly since diseases seem to be one of the "core mechanics" of the DK class.

The line between what you consider acceptable and what you'll nerf is often extremely blurry. For example, DK tanks used to macro rune strike into their abilities. You killed that playstyle when you decided to put Rune Stike on the GCD.

I don't disagree with that. We don't like to reflexively stomp out on creative use of game mechanics just because they were unexpected. (This is particularly true of encounters, where we will generally just accept if players come up with strategies we didn't anticipate, so long as they don't trivialize the intended challenge.)

It comes down to whether we think the playstyle violates what we are trying to do with the class.

Imagine there was a rogue build that centered around only using Deadly Throw and Fan of Knives to make an effective ranged dps class. Imagine this rotation was generally accepted to do 5% more dps than the traditional melee rogue. That's the kind of thing we would likely break. That's not because we're mean jerks. It's because we think the game might break down: rogue itemization would be in a weird place, encounters might not work with so many characters at range, most importantly those players who enjoy playing rogues because of the iconic lightly-armored melee fighter are now encouraged to play something completely different that they might not enjoy.

There are no hard and fast rules on this sort of thing. It's all judgement calls on the part of the designers.

So changes aren't made solely on the idea that something is overly potent or not. A change may occur because it makes a simple DPS rotation as effective as one that takes more effort to play, since the more complex rotation rewards skill. A change might be made because of flavor, such as the rogue spec above. No one minds rogues' doing higher DPS as long as they do it like rogues, not standing in the back using ranged attacks and generally acting like substandard hunters.

These two ideas dovetail. Players should learn at least the basics of talenting their characters by playing their characters, and changes will be made to classes and specs to keep players on track and rewarding them for mastering their classes (as in the ranged rogue example above; it's not the design goal for the class to be a ranged DPS, and any accidental discovery of talent selections that made it possible would be stamped out). All of this is aimed at a gameplay experience in which the barrier to entry is reduced, and while it will most likely always require some relearning and exploring outside sources of information, the basics are being contemplated and implemented to put some of those tools in a new player's hands as soon as he or she starts playing his chosen class.

A mention is even made of feral druids and protection paladins as classes whose tanking rotations were deliberately aimed at being more complex in Cataclysm in order to give players who master those rotations a sense of accomplishment. Rotations are about this feeling of mastery, and the design is aimed at fostering and rewarding it from an earlier point.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it; nothing will be the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion (available Dec. 7, 2010), from brand new races to revamped quests and zones. Visit our Cataclysm news category for the most recent posts having to do with the Cataclysm expansion.

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