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Scattered Shots: Frostheim's interview with an imaginary Ghostcrawler

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.

This is not actually an interview with Ghostcrawler. I did not ask him any of these questions, and he did not answer with any of these answers.

But in a deeper sense, a more spiritual sense, Ghostcrawler and I are two lost souls reaching for each other across the vastness of the information superhighway, each seeking that other half to fill the emptiness within us. We are platonic life partners bound by the love of the hunter experience.

Because of this connection we share, this ephemeral bond, I am able to predict how he'd answer if we did in fact conduct an interview. If I happened to sit at a bar next to Ghostcrawler in the not-too-distant future and our eyes met over a glass of stout in a moment of magic, I think we can agree that everything in the following transcript is exactly as he would say it. The only thing that might possibly be different is the words.

Frostheim: Thank you, Imaginary Ghostcrawler, for agreeing to another interview.

Imaginary Ghostcrawler: No problem, Frost -- I can call you Frost, right? It's been too long since the last one. We have to get together more often.

I look forward to it. So, patch 4.3.2 has just recently been released with a series of small buffs for hunters, from DPS to survivability. What was the design theory behind the changes?

That's a bigger question than it sounds like, and one that goes all the way up to the top. The truth is that during Cataclysm, subscriber numbers have dropped. WoW is still a bajillion times bigger than every other MMO combined, but still, it's alarming.

We've been doing a bunch of number crunching trying to identify exactly what it is about Cataclysm that didn't resonate with players as strongly as past expansions. We finally were able to draw a pretty strong correlation between the overall underperformance of the hunter class and the dip in subscriber numbers.

Really? The impact has been that significant?

Absolutely. When you think about it, it makes sense. We spent all these years establishing hunters as the primary class in the game and built all the other classes around hunters. And then in Cataclysm, we just dropped the ball on the PvP front for hunters, and the class ended up a little subpar in PvE. Not very subpar, mind you. Hunters can still kick ass -- can I say "ass" on WoW Insider? -- well, they can still kick ass, but they have to work harder for it.

The design of Dragon Soul has really shone a light on the hunter survivability issues, with heroic mode fights that really benefit from damage-reduction cooldowns combined with mechanics that bypass Deterrence. We're doing a lot more in Mists to improve the class, and you've seen some of that already, but we felt we had to do something quick while we worked on the overhaul. I know it's not everything, but we're hard at work on the rest in Mists.

On the topic of Mists of Pandaria, what are the overall goals of the expansion?

There are three main goals in Mists: sweet-ass panda ninjas, more awesome things for hunters, and more focus on the Horde/Alliance conflict.

What are the goals for the hunter class?

Hunters are tricky, because they're so central to the game. From a broad perspective, we absolutely need to get the hunter PvP situation fixed, and in general we want to work on streamlining the hunter toolbox.

Could you got into more detail?

For you? Anything. On the PvP end, the real problem with hunter balance right now has more to do with difficulty balance than power balance. The absolute best hunter players can compete with the absolute best players of most other classes. Point in case, we saw a hunter in the winning PvP team at BlizzCon. The problem is once you move out of the top half of the top percent, hunters fall like a rock.

Getting rid of minimum range is one of the first steps to adjusting the difficulty curve of hunters, and along with that will come some better damage reduction cooldowns. We want to move away from the notion that hunters are either at range or they're dead. But it's going to take a lot of testing in alpha and beta to nail it down, we know that.

And what about streamlining the hunter toolbox?

On the PvE end, we need to be very careful about the level of complexity in hunter gameplay. Hunters already have one of the largest toolboxes, combined with pretty involved shot priority cycles that are constantly changing.

A lot of players are kind of envious of, for example, the arcane mage rotation. It's basically just two buttons, but with involved cooldown management. It takes skill to play really well, but it takes little skill to play pretty darned good. Contrast that to hunters that take a high degree of skill to play pretty good.

Of course, the problem is that as much as players wish they had the arcane mage rotation, if you ask them what they want from the expansion, they will list of a bunch of abilities that involve complicating their toolbox even more -- adding more buttons to press to a class that already has so many. It's always a design challenge to add cool new stuff without adding complexity.

So what are you doing about this?

We're getting rid of a bunch of hunter abilities that are very seldom used. Things like Aspect of the Wild and Immolation Trap and really a bunch of others. Unless we can find a compelling reason to redesign it, the first step is to get rid of the buttons that you never press anyway. We could certainly make 40 ridiculously awesome abilities, but while it sounds cool, in practice it would be impossible to play.

We're also streamlining some rotations -- for example, removing Improved Steady Shot from the MM tree, to make the MM rotation less of a screw job. Can I say "screw job" on WoW Insider? How about #&!%? OK, good to know.

We learned a lot about what's coming for hunters in Mists of Pandaria at BlizzCon. I understand there's still a lot in development, but is there any other cool news we can announce?

I suppose, for you, for hunters, I can say some stuff that's supposed to be secret. But don't let the support classes know, or they'll all want cool things -- and frankly, they just aren't as good-looking as you lot.

Hunters will be getting the Stampede ability -- a short-duration ability on a long cooldown that summons several pets at once to wreak havoc on your enemies. So far in testing, it's pretty damned cool.

The other awesome thing is that Mists of Pandaria will bring a hunter legendary that is going to be so cool you'll wet yourself.

Wow, that's awesome! While we're on the topic, what about taming feral druids?

That's something we looked at, but in the end, the ability just felt too weak. Hunters are designed around having strong pets.

Do you have any specific balance goals in Mists of Pandaria? I know BM hunters in particular have not been pleased with two expansions as the bottom raiding spec of the class.

Our goal is always to have the specs as balanced as possible, while still keeping a unique and distinct feel. But we also have to weigh the cost of making changes too frequently or upsetting the hierarchy against the benefit of balance improvements.

We have the ability to make the DPS potential of the specs amazingly balanced for any given boss fight. We could update abilities and coefficients constantly to adjust to current strategies and gear and have everyone's potential within a few percent. And you know what? Players would hate it. Every week, there'd be a new update, and every week, the top players would have to respec and relearn their abilities and rotations. And even then, that state of balance would exist for just that one boss encounter -- other bosses would then be unbalanced.

Obviously we do release balancing patches and hotfixes throughout every expansion, because balance is important, but there's a delicate line between too much and too little.

Another thing players need to be aware of is that we do pay attention to the output of all the classes and specs, and we have access to a lot more data and better data than you guys do. World of Logs is nothing to the logs we have. We know how classes and specs are performing -- we really do -- and if there's an actual issue we will work to fix it. But sometimes players think there's a significant disparity when in reality there is not -- they're just looking at a small subset of data, or worse, they're just looking at their raid team ... and frankly, there could be skill factors involved.

And on that note, BM is a lot better than most players give it credit for. BM needs work, mostly in the form of smoothing out some pet mechanics that sometimes interfere with their potential, but BM can absolutely eat your face off.

Well, I can see we've already gone really long in this interview, and my editors are going to hate me for this already, so we'd better sign off.

No problem. It gives us some time to get to work on this Bombay Sapphire. All this talking is thirsty work, after all.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter and choosing the best patch 4.2 gear to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the nine support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?

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