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Scattered Shots: Musings on hunter haste design

Brian Wood

Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

One of the many goals with hunters in Cataclysm was to make haste a more attractive stat and a more intuitive stat. Back in Wrath, haste was an almost comically poor stat for hunters. Just about the only thing it did for us was increase the rate of fire of our Auto Shots. While it was still a beneficial stat, it was so much worse than all the rest that hunters would bend over backward and jump through hoops to avoid dirtying themselves with it.

Blizzard certainly succeeded in making haste a more attractive stat for us in Cataclysm. It did not, however, score well on making haste more intuitive. In fact, haste is far more complicated and less intuitive than ever before. At certain points, haste is very good for us; then when we get past those haste plateaus, suddenly haste is much, much worse, until we hit another plateau when it's suddenly good again. And of course, these plateaus are radically different for each spec.

While I'm glad we no longer have a nearly useless stat, I do hope that Blizzard continues to tinker with haste to make it work a bit more smoothly and remove some of the unnecessary complexities. In fact, I even have an idea of where to start.

Join me after the cut for Frostheim's haste design theory.

The way designers think

I have a background in the tabletop game industry, and I've had the pleasure of working with some great game designers -- Eric Lang, Darrell Hardy, and Kevin Wilson among them. One of the interesting things about talking with game designers is that they all think about games in similar ways, whether they make board games, CCGs, Facebook games, or computer games.

Game designers are obsessed with simplicity and strategy (well, and fun -- and listening to game designers dissect what makes mechanics fun is fascinating stuff, but another topic).

Designers want to come up with mechanics that are simple and intuitive but have a depth of strategy behind them. One of the very first mantras that they learn way back in game designer kindergarten is that more complicated doesn't mean more strategic, and it certainly doesn't mean better.

Games like chess are a common example of games with incredibly simple rules but amazing depth of strategy. Designers are going for that idea -- they want the strategy and depth, but they want to achieve it as simply and intuitively as possible.

Another interesting thing about working at a gaming company for any length of time is that you get to hear from hundreds of armchair designers -- gamers who think they've made the next great game. The incredibly common theme of all those massive board games (they're always giant, $100 board games) are loads and loads of complicated mechanics upon mechanics, all of which add no strategy or depth to the game but sure as heck make it harder to understand. There's something about the game consumer's mind that equates more complicated with better.

Of course, every time I write a column like this one, I wince a little inside at the thought that I'm becoming one of those armchair designers ...

Intuitive stats

Along with simplicity comes the desire for intuitive mechanics. This gets more important the large and more complex a game is. In a game like WoW, you can't possibly expect a player to read a massive rules tome explaining exactly how every mechanic works. Instead, the overall gist of the mechanics should be obvious just through playing.

Most of our stats are in fact very intuitive. I can see a newer player messing around in WoW for a few hours or a few days just getting them.

  • Crit rating? Makes me crit more, right? Right.
  • Hit rating? Makes me hit more, or miss less, right? Right.
  • Mastery, er (looks at his BM window), makes my pet do more damage, right? Right.
  • Haste? Makes me shoot faster, right? Ri ... well, kinda. For some shots, yes, for other shots no, and for other shots, sometimes yes and sometimes no.
Haste is simply not an intuitive stat. In concept, it should just make you attack faster. In practice, it lets your Auto Shot fire faster exactly with the percentage of haste you have -- that part matches exactly the way you'd expect it to work. But your special shots are all kittiwompus.

Haste does not increase the rate at which you can fire any of your special shots -- though technically, with haste increasing your focus regen, it does in a very non-intuitive way increase the number of focus-dump shots you can fire. Unfortunately, with our base focus regen being so low (at 4 focus per second), haste doesn't have a very large effect on that.

The most noticeable effect of haste is lowering the cast time of our filler shots, Cobra Shot and Steady Shot. Unfortunately, that doesn't actually mean that we fire more of them. Sometimes at certain haste plateaus, we suddenly get to fire an extra one, but a lot of the time we can stack haste and stack haste but still fire the same number of filler shots.

Hunter signature shots

As hunters, our filler shot is gated by our signature shots. These are our super-desirable, big-damage shots that are locked into a cooldown. These shots are great and a fantastic and interesting design, by the way, but because they're so desirable, we rarely want to delay them by more than a very short amount of time.

So if we can fit three filler shots between our signature shot, and then we get 10% haste ... well, we're still firing three filler shots between each signature shot, and then just waiting for a tiny gap of time to fire our signature shot.

Thus, if our signature shot has a 6-second cooldown, then we're firing three filler shots every 6 seconds. But if we can get enough haste to suddenly lower that filler shot cast time to being close to being able to fit four of them in, now we see a sudden leap in shots fired, and our DPS jumps!

Up until that point, the only thing that haste is doing for us is improving our Auto Shot and focus regen (and helping our pet), and isn't a great stat. But when we reach that plateau, suddenly haste is phenomenal for us.

You could argue that this kind of complexity separates the wheat from the chaff and lets the skilled players (or, you know, the ones that read blogs and/or Elitist Jerks) rise to the top. However, more complicated does not make it better. As it stands now, haste is certainly not an intuitive stat, and it adds more complexity than I think is good for the class. I'd rather see players focus on their playing rather than drowning in a morass of specific stat cutoff points.

A streamlined haste solution

Personally, I think the solution here is pretty simple and straightforward -- though certainly it's a dramatic enough change that it'd take a lot of testing and rebalancing of the class:

Allow haste to reduce the cooldown of our signature shots.

Now, along with this, you'd have to set those cooldowns in a way that worked logically with the filler shots (or set the Cobra/Steady cast time in a way that worked logically within the cooldowns). So perhaps your Cobra Shot has a 2-second cast time base, and then your Explosive Shot has a 7-second cooldown base. You can fit exactly three Cobra Shots between each Explosive Shot.

Now you get 10% haste. Guess what? You still fit exactly three Cobras between each Explosive. You are firing both your Cobra Shot and Explosive Shot 10% faster. You get 10% more haste, and you get 10% more shots.

Not exactly, of course; there's our focus dump, which will continue to scale bumpily, and of course our DoTs and whatnot. But now, the majority of our damage is affected intuitively by haste. Your rotation is what your rotation is, regardless of your haste level. It'll still change up based on talent procs, and with more haste, you'll regen focus faster and thus have to fire more focus dump shots.

But now haste would work the way it seems like it should work, and it removes a bunch of gear-juggling complexity that didn't really increase the strategy of the class. Now pair that up with a careful rebalancing of shot damage, and we have a haste solution that I think would be a vast improvement for the majority of hunters.

What do you guys think? Do you like the extra haste complexity that we have now? Or would you rather have a cleaner, simpler solution, as long as haste remained a viable and competitive stat?
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter through optimizing for heroics, pre-heroic loot and pre-raid loot, then on to choosing the right spec for the right job and how to "aspect dance" to maximize your DPS, we've got you covered.

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