Blizzard Kicks Off 'Dev Watercooler' Blog Series

Remember when the Blue Tracker for official Blizzard posts was filled with comments from Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street? It looks like the team is attempting to capture a similar feeling with its new Dev Watercooler blog series. As Ghostcrawler puts it, these blogs will be "much more conversational and less proclamational. ... It will hopefully feel like you’re eavesdropping on our design meetings."

After emphasizing that these blogs should be viewed as brainstorming sessions rather than official patch notes, Ghostcrawler goes into a lengthy discussion about the role of Hit and Expertise on tank gear. How can Blizzard make them more interesting? He mentions turning them into defensive stats, but they're not sure yet.

You can read Ghostcrawler's post after the jump. What are your thoughts on this Dev Watercooler style?

Dev Watercooler: The View From 10,000 Feet

So how is the view from way up here? It’s great actually -- we’re really happy with how Cataclysm is going so far, and we have big surprises on the horizon. On the other hand, there are details you can see at ground level that you can’t make out from 10,000 feet.

When we started these blogs, the idea was to foster developer communication to the players without some of the inherent problems of posting in forums. Some players have pointed out recently, and we totally agree, that the blogs up until now have been from a very high vantage point. We looked for topics with universal interest that would feel important and newsworthy. That has worked overall, but we also feel like we’ve lost something from when I used to be down in the metaphorical trenches talking to players in the forums.

So we’re going to try something a little different. We’re going to unleash some blogs that are much more conversational and less proclamational (that's a word now). If we deliver on this, it will hopefully feel like you’re eavesdropping on our design meetings. You won’t always learn a lot about exciting new features coming to the game, but you will (ideally) learn something about the design process itself. (When we have big, exciting news to share, or ‘State of the Game’ style blogs, we’ll still do those as well.)

But to pull off this more casual blog style, let’s establish a few ground rules:

1) No promises. I’m going to be talking about a lot of things we might do or things we could do. You shouldn’t interpret this brainstorming as patch notes. Our creative process is insanely iterative. We might pitch dozens of ideas before we find one we like. That can be really exhausting if you’re not used to it. If you’re more interested in final decisions and not idea churn, then this style of blog won’t be for you.

2) Don’t read too much between the lines. I’m going to point out a lot of design flaws in our game. “Oh no! Goatcaller admitted WoW was deeply flawed! It’s shark-jumping time!” Look, Blizzard is very critical about our own designs. There is virtually nothing in World of Warcraft that could not be improved. That has always been the case and will continue to be the case. Just because I’m going to be sharing that more frankly with you doesn’t mean that the game now has more cracks in its foundation than it ever did. There is an old saying (misattributed, from what I understand, to Otto Bismarck) that laws are like sausages; it is best not seeing them being made. My old friend and mentor Bruce Shelley used to apply the same maxim to game design.

3) No complaints about the topic. If we didn’t have an interesting discussion about a topic recently, e.g. shaman mechanics, I’m not going to invent one. That doesn’t mean that the class is perfect, or that we don’t love shaman players, or that the shaman class has no direction, or that the class design is frozen in carbonite. I’m not going to keep hash marks next to every class and spec to make sure I’ve covered their "Very Important Issues" lately in a blog. World of Warcraft design being what it is, we’ll probably eventually get around to talking about everyone on here, but it may take weeks or months or years. My team is responsible for areas of the game including classes, items, encounters, trade skills, achievements, combat, and UI, so my blogs will probably stick to those topics.

Okay, all that preamble is out of the way now. I’ll probably refer back to it sometimes, if we have some players stomping all over the ground rules.

One topic we’ve been discussing lately is the role of Hit and Expertise on tank gear (or more precisely, plate tanking gear). The conventional wisdom is that Hit and Expertise are threat stats, and you may need to swap them out with some of your mitigation stats depending on the situation. Realistically, unless you severely overgear the content, we don’t think that is actually true. Tanks almost always worry about survival first and foremost, which totally makes sense, and are willing to trade off threat stats for better mitigation in almost all situations. It’s much harder to progress if the tank explodes than it is if the cat occasionally pulls aggro. (It’s not quite that simple, but I’m going to gloss over details and exceptions since I spent so much text on the preamble up above).

Once upon a time, taunts could miss, and so Hit was marginally more interesting than it is today. Once upon a time, having a boss parry your attacks could speed up its swing timer, which turned Expertise into a (often weak) survival stat. Boss parries felt very random though, both in the sense that sometimes the tank would suddenly take much more damage than anticipated and there was no easy way to know which bosses had parry speed up. (Today, you can assume none of them do.) Until recently, interrupts could miss, but asking a tank to stack a bunch of Hit just for those few opportunities when they were probably going to hit anyway but disaster would occur if they did not felt crummy too.

The problem is that there aren’t a lot of stats that are interesting to tanks. Stamina and Armor are great, but their stat budget is often in lockstep with item level. (It would be interesting to consider if we could make that not the case once again, but that’s the topic for another blog.) We got rid of Defense as a stat that tanks needed to worry about. We have managed to make Mastery pretty good to excellent for tanks, so that’s at least one stat they like to see. Dodge and (if you’re a plate-wearer) Parry are good, and slightly interesting because of talents like Hold the Line. But beyond that, it starts to go downhill. Sure Haste and Crit can sometimes be fun, but really they often aren’t worth the trade off. That leaves us with Hit and Expertise. We’d like to make them more interesting to tanks. But how?

One way is by turning them into defensive stats. They are defensive stats for Blood death knights, because the DK self-healing is tied into Death Strike, which can miss. It might be possible to do something similar for the other classes. Imagine if Shield Block had to actually hit the target. Presumably you raise your shield, but not high enough to intercept the incoming blow. Now hit becomes a mitigation stat for warriors as well. We might have to adjust the mitigation amount on Shield Block or give warriors a small Hit bonus so Hit capping wasn’t totally unreasonable, but you get the basic idea. You could do the same with paladins (make Holy Shield more interesting?) and druids as well (Savage Defense could proc on a hit).

Is this a good idea? We’re not sure yet. You won’t see this change in the 4.1 patch for certain. There are trade-offs to making Hit and Expertise more valuable. Gearing as a tank might be more fun for experienced players, but it also might be more challenging for less experienced players. The number of struggling tanks in your Dungeon Finder groups might go up. Some less knowledgeable players (and to be fair, this stuff doesn’t exactly explain itself on the character sheet) might stack Hit way too high at the expense of a more valuable mitigation stat, such as mastery.

It is the kind of thing we’re talking about though, and if you want to make a contribution to the tanking forums but aren’t quite sure on a topic, here is one potential possibility.

-Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer of World of Warcraft. He still has Buru’s Skull Fragment.


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