AutomaticJak Interview with Sigma on Classes
With Antorus right around the corner, this is the perfect time to know more about class design, balance and future goals for instances. During BlizzCon, our Holy and Discipline Priest guide writer,
interviewed Sigma, also known as Jay, from the WoW Development Team.
The interview goes over many different topics, ranging from balance, to utility, to Mythic Dungeons and to Raid Cooldowns. Below you can find the video for the interview, followed by our highlights and finally a detailed write-up on all questions and answers.
Legion represented a great challenge to the team
The team wasn't happy with a couple specs, which led to drastic changes to some specs, like Feral Druids, Frost DK and Discipline Priests
The idea going forward is to target one by one the specs they are unhappy about and fix what they see necessary about them
Tank and Healer relationship
Tanks need to feel powerful enough so their choices for survivability matter
But at same time, Tanks can't be 100% independent, otherwise healers would focus only on Raid Heaing, which would break the classic healer mentality and be unhealthy to the healer's gameplay
Mythic Dungeon Invitational Representativity
Mythic Dungeon is becoming a huge point of balance in the game, the team is happy about that.
Mythic Dungeons help the players and the devs to see strengths and weaknesses from specs in a new perspective.
Having to balance around Mythic Keystone difficulties brings two different types of balances mostly underused in raids: Utility and Survivability balance.
The class choices in MDI and in higher keystones shows us how important is utility for specs on dungeons, highlighting the power of spells like
Many of those were strengths already in a raid environment, but when you have around 20 people their power is dissolved between them.
Balancing utility is complicated and raises many different questions that Blizzard is looking to solve in the future
Survivability Balancing in High Ranked Keystones
Survivability should be balanced enough that it doesn't get to a point that you're not invited because you can't survive an unavoidable mechanic.
While impossible to guarantee to all levels of content, the team focuses on enabling all classes and specs up to the max level of reward, currently +10, but soon +15 Keystones.
After that point, there will always be a point in the scaling that it will become impossible to balance, since the scaling never stops.
A good balance strategy is to have different classes and spec with different effective health pools against different threats.
In the future both utility and survivability must be better spread around specs, but never having one spec with survivability as their utility, for instance.
The keyword in this future balancing is
Environment Balancing and Utility Niche
The best way to balance instances in general is to have them to be as diverse as possible, allowing different specs to shine in their different ways.
A niche ability can feel as strong as a general utility one if it is strength is clear and it provides an easier alternative to content, making healing easier for instance.
In the perfect world, every time you entered the same dungeon with a different group, it would have a different feeling to it, because of the aspects brought by having different specs on those runs.
The start point to all legendary designs was "What are major abilities on this spec that don't have a legendary linked to them yet?" and iterate from that point.
From that, the designing team asks themselves "What could we add to that ability to make it even more awesome?"
Which lead to two other questions "What will be the major impact of the item?" and "What is going to be fun about using it?"
Throughput vs Utility Legendaries
In Legion, the team learned that utility legendaries must provide some throughput as well, which is why all utility legendaries received either extra stats or effects in later patches.
Having all legendaries providing similar levels of throughput seem to be the right answer for that system, looking back to the final results of Legion.
While utility legendaries feel great when you get to use their strengths, in the other 90% of the time, they don't felt as good as throughput legendaries.
Talents and Traits
Talents are always big contenders for new iterations for every spec, even for specs the team is happy with.
Both Data and Player Feedback gives the team the tools they need to judge talents and see if they are good options to keep or if they should be replaced.
Artifact Traits are a pool of options for new Talents in Battle for Azeroth, as we will lose the traits together with the Artifact Weapons.
Power Creep and Burst vs Over-time Effects
Burst Healing vs Healing Over-time is a classic problem for healers, which reflects the change of healing type as the character power creep increases.
In Legion, they expected an even greater power creep for healers, with players gaining periodic bursts of power from Artifacts
In order to counter that, they added the hidden
trait, to balance the increase in power with a increase to player's health pools.
The intent was to never reach spammy healing scenarios like at the end of other expansions, when you're fighting to just spam as much healing as possible.
helped to keep HoTs relevant throughout Legion so far, unlike happened in previous expansions timelines, where burst healing dominated later on.
Creative mechanics like
or allowing the raid to take more damage to shorten fights like during
are good tools to make healers feel more relevant.
You can't however have special mechanics for healers on every fight, which is where
comes in, to make healing feel more meaningful and important.
, we might have entered a world like previous expansions, where everyone is spiking back and forth from close to 0 to 100% health with every major mechanic.
In previous expansions, Raid Cooldowns fulfilled the role to fully heal your raid or to ignore certain mechanics.
In Legion, the team have changed them, making them feel more like boost to the group's healing, that is, a single
won't top off everyone, but together, with other AoE healing spells, it will quickly reach that.
The team is really happy with the state of Raid Cooldowns right now.
Their current state makes them feel powerful and meaningful, but they also don't negate the necessity of other healing effects over their durations.
During Legion's encounters, the team tried to make healers have as much steady healing required as possible, without relying too much on damage spikes.
The decisions made between casting one
must be meaningful as well, so you can't have too many different healing cooldowns.
Those decisions are the core healing gameplay and show how well the player can manage it or how efficient they are with their heals.
What was the thought process on designing the specs for Legion, from the fresh designs for them at the beginning to balance them over the different patches, and how did you manage to keep class fantasy and balance in check during it?
Legion was defined by big updates to all specs. Overall it went all, as in we found a good form for most specs, as in players are happy with the results of the redesign, have a positive feedback response. When changing that many specs it would be a lie to say that there aren't a couple specs that we wished to have done something differently or changing aspects of them going forward. After being done with the redesigns from 7.0, our focus has been targeting the specs one by one and revisiting them, updating them as we found best, based on player feedback. Those changes can be seen in patches 7.1.5, 7.2.5, and 7.3 and they have gone pretty well, Feral Frost and Discipline are prime examples as spec that players are a lot happier now than at start of Legion. Going forward our project is to find specs that need that special look at and fix them, instead of doing complete overhauls as was the case with Legion's launch, that re-evaluated every aspect of the specs. Legion's launch focused on giving kind of personality to the specs, giving meaningful differences between similar specs, focusing on identity and giving them a core purpose for their rotation. Specially early in Legion, like in patch 7.1.5, almost 50% of the spec saw significant changes, in order to better polish them, then in 7.2.5 probably another 25% saw significant changes and that's inevitable when you do such a major overhaul. Now, at 7.3, we are at a more stable moment, so there are always few and few specs that we need to change.
Going forward, how to you judge keeping stability, while making significant meta changes? Like changes in the relationship between tanks and healers that happen throughout the expansions, from mostly independent tanks in Mists, to healer-dependent tanks in early WoD to the current, how to keep those changes happening while still keeping the balance stable around the table?
Tank requiring external healing is something we always want, because that's part of healing gameplay. There have been some expansions that that wasn't the case, where raid healing was more important. SO the toughest balance to find there is tanks feeling powerful over their own survivability, but still having tank healing to be important, so healer have important decisions, like "should I heal the tank or should I heal the raid?", which makes solo healing content like dungeons way more interesting. A classic thought for healers was "I'm casting this spell on my tank and next I need to heal my group" and that's something we want to maintain.
Talking about solo healing, we can bridge to the Mythic Dungeon Invitational (MDI), where we had many different healers represented in the first event, but going forward what do you see as plans to healers going forward? As in, do you want to see all healers represented there and how to balance that without homogenizing it?
Mythic Dungeon is becoming such a huge point of focus of the game. As a team we love it, because is has been a really successful aspect of the game and on classes in particular we like it because it makes you see the weaknesses and strengths of the specs on a different content and it gives more meaning to utility from DPS specs. The biggest thing we saw at MDI was utility becoming the main focus of class balance, probably more than it had been in raids, for healers. Also for other roles as well, forcing us to make tuning decisions around utility. A good example of these is Rebirth, which for the longest time we knew was a special aspect of the game, but it never was a problem in a raid perspective. On one side you have balance, but on other we like classes having unique and powerful abilities, so basically the question is, what should a balanced utility package be? What classes should be able to handle and what they shouldn't be able to handle? With the answer for those questions being the focus to balance in the future.
Utility is a major point of balance, but so is survivability. We've seen in the MDI a huge difference between classes, because of the high scaling on dungeons, survivability became an important factor, because a Protection Paladin having less health than a Guardian Druid meant the druid could survive what the paladin couldn't. At the same time you can't have all classes homogenized, so how do you go about balancing those aspects for all roles?
That is another aspect that got highlighted by the MDI, a different balance. Overall survivability should be balanced enough that you're not limiting which classes can accomplish certain levels of content. Really high level Mythic Dungeons focus on a kind of survivability with really high spikes of survival, when you have certain mechanics, like a Shadow Bolt that will hit in a certain moment and you need to be able to survive that. Overall we try to at least guarantee that every spec feels capable of performing at least a +15 dungeon, which unlocks the highest rewards, after that point, there is always going to be a certain level that there will be classes that might get 1-shotted by abilities, because different classes have different effective health pools against different abilities and the scaling doesn't stop. On the flip side, that makes us look more into balancing those aspects, like, in the future, we'd like to have all those strengths and weaknesses more spread between all specs, within a certain limit, you don't want a class that focus all on survivability, but has no utility, then you run to problems in other areas. The main focus of this future spread is uniqueness, while ensuring every spec feels useful in some tasks and the feels like they have more survival tools for some scenarios. Making that distinct between all specs and having powerful feeling is the final goal of that project.
How does the balance team work on creating balanced environments for specific instances we're running? For instance, in Mists of Pandaria, Combat Rogue had insane cleave that hit multiple Garalon's legs, which had to be patched right away, but going into dungeons, making unique abilities, like, for Priests, having Mass Dispel sometime I ask myself "I wish I had more situations I could use this". In its niche it is amazing, but when you don't have that option, you feel behind other classes that have utility like Rebirth, that can be useful every time.
The best thing we can do on both content and class sides is to have as much variety as we can something as you described with Mass Dispel, is a nice example of something that works well if an entire array of dungeons you have a few points that your niche works as something that makes you deal with certain mechanic more easily and there are other bosses that you don't have the "thing" that makes it easier. The more we present a really broad spread of different threats that different classes can answer in different ways, the more successful we are, not only as of reaching balance, but having different comps experience the dungeon in different ways.
With both Raiding and Dungeon scenarios, we've seen different legendaries have different uses and utilities among all classes. During Legion major patches, there were more and more legendaries being added in order to fill certain blanks. How do you go around making them unique for each spec, also trying to balance new power levels created with it?
A lot of it is to answer "What are major abilities on this spec that don't have a legendary linked to them yet?" Where there might have some player that says they love that ability already, so we try to answer "What could we add to that ability to make it even more awesome?" That's our ground start, "What will be the major impact of the item?" or "What is going to be fun about using it?".
You think that it has worked well focusing on really big HPS increases on some legendaries, whereas some have really high utility to them, making people switch around for some fights. Or what do you see going forward? Just Utility or just HPS increases?
Looking back on Legion, we learned that we need to close that gap. The place that we have right now, that every legendary gives a nice balanced amount of throughput is probably something we like better than what we had at start, with some legendaries just giving utility. At start of Legion, there was a stark difference where someone that had a massive throughout legendary would have over something that got one that just gave an strategic utility increase. To fix that we gave all legendaries have a meaningful throughput effect and we believe that's the best place for that system, working like talents, where we try to not put utility and throughput options in the same row against each other. Utility legendaries now give you that moment of "oh I got to do something cool with gateway", but in all other 90% of situations you still feel the power gain and don't feel bad about having that legendary.
When you talk about talents, talents and artifact traits had a really nice synergy throughout the expansion, when you unlocked that extra golden trait, being able to have that synergy there, like having
, causing your
bounce around for free and then you have your talents, like
interacting with that trait, getting more from the trait itself. How do you see Artifact traits, specially the more popular ones, do you see them being integrated to specs, as passives or future talents?
As far as artifact traits nothing is decided yet, but overall yes, talents are big contenders for space that we will iterate on every spec, even with specs that we're happy with, because with a full expansion of data, knowing which ones players are happy with or unhappy with, it gives us an idea of talents we want to replace and the current traits are a good pool of options for future talents as they will stay locked in Legion with the Artifact Weapons.
On the subject of Artifacts, the Netherlight Crucible was the tool added for Tomb of Sargeras to combat the power creep, that being, with groups getting more and more gear, fights tend to finish faster and faster, which hurts both DPS, for instance Shadow Priests, that have high ramp up times, and healers, which before had HoTs fighting against Absorbs, but now the issue is starting to become burst healing from abilities like
. How do you see that power creep going forward into Antorus and how do you plan to manage the Crucible and, depending on how long the tier will be, keeping content interesting over a long period of time?
Burst healing vs healing-over-time effects is classic problem for healers, which is the reflect of the change of healing type as the content goes on and on and we've seen it so many times over the years. With Legion we expected to have even greater power creeps over raid because of the advent of Artifacts, with traits giving players more and more power as time goes by, compared to what we had before. So there was always this issue in mind that, at the start of the expansion you'd have health bars slowly going up, but, with more and more traits, it would start getting spammy. To counter-balance that is why we added the passive health increase on all Artifacts, it is designed to keep the healing environment mostly stable, allowing you to heal more as you get more power, to keep the balance of HoT and Burst healing effects stable. All and all I believe that power gains with artifacts went really well, I don't think we have a repeat what we had at the end of Wrath, Cata or MoP, that healing had just become burst healing.
In MoP I remember fights like
, where in 10 man, when you were 2-healing the fight and one of the healers got targeted by the Laser, everyone had to be topped off or bad things would happen. I definitely see healers moving away from toxic aspects of healing like shields or heavy bursts of healing like we've seen at the end of expansions, but I think it is interesting to look at how burst healing has become more effective on certain fights. We've seen some experimentation on some counter-designs like Thorns or shortcuts that make you take way more damage to counter the issues we have of "Oh, we are on farm, healing is boring now". Do you see more things like that going forward?
Those are cool designs, so I'm happy when I see them experimenting with them because they usually lead to fun encounters, encounters when healing doesn't become stale and boring. From our perspective there was also the focus of fixing it on a broader level, a solution so we don't have to have each encounter with a different mechanic to make healing less spammy, like tuning the players health pool, making it increase at a similar pace as the throughput potential, so you feel like you're in the right place with the power currently available to you, instead of as you get stronger you enter in a world that everything is doing spiking damage, demanding faster and faster healing.
Raid Cooldowns, we've seen a big scale down in raid CDs in general, from DPS losing all Raid Cooldowns, to tanks having limited access and then even healer ones being toned down. How do you see the state of Raid Cooldowns going forward, are they in a good spot right now?
I think there's a lot of progress that was done on Raid Cooldowns during Legion, we cut down the power of main throughput cooldowns during Legion beta, with some receiving buffs later during the patch cycle, but I think we're pretty happy at their state right now. We haven't gotten much feedback one way or another about them since the end of Legion beta about them, so I believe people have accepted their state, which means they are filling in their purpose really well. It is no longer the world that you would press a button for
and it just brings your raid back to full, but, if someone presses it, over those next 6-8 seconds of channeling, and, with the help of everyone else, the raid is rapidly healed back up, making it feel like you've catched back up with healing. That state makes them feel powerful and meaningful, but also doesn't make them feel like you're negating the gameplay that everyone is supposed to have.
Back in Warlords, in Blackrock Foundry, during the Blast Furnace fight when our druid healer used
, 2 or 3 other healers would be able to use their
, because it was so strong and would cover all the needed healing. It is good to see the cooldowns not at that power level, but it would be interesting to see going forward, based on feedback, to have a world with more small throughput increases to come back like Holy Paladin's
or Resto Druid's
, instead of those big "top everyone buttons".
I think we do agree that a healer environment of steady damage coming from encounters is really healthy and it is something we tried to achieve during Legion and still aim to do, but those 3 minutes you spend between casting
should still be an important part of the game, because then you have steady damage, at least from unavoidable sources, and managing those moments, even with some spikes in necessity, is part of the core healing gameplay and how they manage that, how efficient they are at that, and how well they are at eventual spikes. That model was done on many different bosses this expansion and we will probably see more of it in the future.
You've been part of Blizzard's team for two years now and a lot of people know you as Hamlet who did a lot of WoW Theorycraft outside the Blizzard team. How was it for you personally, having done that as a fan, doing it only by passion, transitioning into doing it as a job?
Of course that was fantastic at start, because, as you described, it was something I spent all my free time on, analyzing the game, blogging about it, doing math work and stuff, before I applied. I like it a lot, probably, unsurprisingly *laughs* it was something I always wanted to do and definitely I learned a lot on what goes into making the classes fun, probably beyond just the slice of it I made into my hobby project, before I could spend a huge amount of time on it. So, doing the math work and things like that, that I was known blogging about is still part of my job, but there's just a lot of analyzing what makes classes fun at a design level. A lot of impact in timing buttons, visuals, you know what makes a talent row a cool decision and learning about all that over the course of few year has been super rewarding.
But you still haven't gone to the CelestSalon, is that right?
That's right, he has tried getting me to go a bunch of times, but I think he is looking pretty well scheduled this year as we can see.
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