Wowhead Wrath of the Lich King Classic Interview with Brian Birmingham
Wowhead had the opportunity to interview Lead Software Engineer on World of Warcraft Classic,
. In the interview, we cover topics in Wrath of the Lich King Classic ranging from Dungeon Finder, Raid Lockouts, Race Change, Faction Balance, Dual Talent Specialization, and Arena PvP.
Here's a brief summary of some of the key takeaways from this interview with Brian Birmingham --
With Dungeon Finder being removed in Wrath of the Lich King Classic, the development team is looking at various ways to improve the player experience when finding a group.
Changing how Raid Lockouts work has been a discussion amongst the team, figuring out a way to reduce the number of "required" runs players might feel obligated to do once Heroic Raids are available.
Race and Faction Change services will likely not be available in Wrath of the Lich King Classic and the team is exploring various ideas on how to balance racial abilities, considering something fantasy-forward.
Faction Imbalance is a major concern for the Classic community and the team is looking at ways to solve the issue regarding realm populations and Wintergrasp.
Pre-Nerf and Post-Nerf boss encounter mechanics won't really be a thing in Wrath of the Lich King Classic.
Dual Talent Specialization will not be restricted in Wrath of the Lich King Classic.
The Classic development team is looking at various ways to introduce Ring of Valor in Wrath of the Lich King Classic.
: Thanks for talking to me! I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about some of these subjects at more length!
Removing Dungeon Finder in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
One of the hot buttons issues amongst the community is the removal of dungeon finder. One of the central pieces of the conversation is what happens to Emblems if Dungeon Finder is removed, what type of system is the team considering to help with LFG Chat, and lastly would Dungeon Finder be okay if it wasn't cross realm? Can you share any information on the topic?
: First, I want to emphasize that our goal is to provide a tool that makes it easy to find groups, without sacrificing human-to-human interaction. World of Warcraft has had numerous versions of group finding tools over the years, and there are lessons we can learn from all of them, including Random Dungeon Finder. We’re looking at modern World of Warcraft’s Premade Group Finder and Burning Crusade Classic’s Looking For Group tool for inspiration and ideas.
Looking first at the modern tools, we like the inviting and streamlined UI flow that helps you find the activity you’re looking for. We also think it makes sense to declare your role in the group, so it’s clear which roles you already have and what you’re still looking for—we’ll probably borrow those ideas. But as you alluded to, cross realm grouping is one of our concerns with the modern tools. When you’re unlikely to see your groupmates again, it can make your interaction feel more transactional, which can inadvertently encourage other negative social behaviors.
With the Burning Crusade Classic tool, one thing we like is that you can advertise your availability without signing up to organize the group. It’s nice to have a way of saying, “I’m available, but I don’t want to lead”. We’ve heard from some players that they really like engaging with the grouping tool that way, so we want to support that behavior as well. The biggest problem with Burning Crusade’s tool is just that it’s not widely used, so we’d like to make it more enticing by streamlining its interface or adding an incentive to try it.
You also asked about Emblems. It’s important to remember that Emblems dropped from bosses in both dungeons and raids throughout Wrath of the Lich King. Prior to the introduction of Dungeon Finder in patch 3.3, there was also a daily quest targeting a specific dungeon that awarded bonus emblems, which is what the Random Dungeon Finder bonus replaced. We’re currently planning to restore that daily quest bonus.
As for the LFG channel, we know some of the larger realms see a lot of spam in that chat, and we have some ideas for how to clean it up. We’re considering bringing over some of the changes in Season of Mastery that reduced boosting spam there and should have more to share on that topic soon. It’s worth noting that the policy against advertising boosts in the Looking for Group channel applies to Classic as well as to modern WoW.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there will be a way to get the Perky Pug. We know you didn’t forget that little guy, and we didn’t either. He’ll be available through an in-game activity, likely related to grouping up as he was originally. We’re still talking about the specifics, and we’re interested to hear ideas from the community around that as well.
Naxxramas in Wrath of the Lich King
Changing Raid Lockouts in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
The team talked about possibly changing the raid lockout to reduce the amount of times players feel obligated to run the same raid instance in a given week. The issue with this is the available loot across the different raid difficulties/sizes is vastly different, how will the team address this?
: The idea of changing the raid lockout came out of some negative memories of running Trial of the Crusader four times in a week, and we think that’s where the problem is most apparent. It meant that players stopped running Ulduar prematurely, replacing it entirely with various configurations of Trial of the Crusader. That was caused both by having access to all four difficulties each week, and the fact that even the 10-person Normal gear from Trial of the Crusader was better than almost anything from Ulduar.
The dramatic acceleration of gear in Trial of the Crusader also led directly to some of the problems described by developers at the time, such as “Chill of the Throne” in Icecrown. So, we’re considering changes here, but want to tread carefully.
At a minimum we’re likely to have normal and heroic modes share a lockout, but heroic modes don’t exist until Trial of the Crusader. We might try to make them activatable hard-modes like Ulduar was, that would inherently make them share a lock-out as they did in Ulduar.
We’re interested in hearing feedback on the topic. Having multiple difficulties of the same raid was new in Wrath of the Lich King, and as a result we tried lots of things with raid lockouts throughout the course of the expansion and the ones that followed. Whatever we decide, we’d like it to be the same system throughout instead of having it change patch-to-patch like it did in the original release.
Race Change & Faction Change in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
In multiple interviews, it was said the team is "uncertain" if they will add in race change and faction change for Wrath of the Lich King Classic. Additionally, it was suggested that the PvP realm restrictions were lifted during the original Wrath because of the faction change service (the restriction being you can only have 1 faction of characters on a PvP realm). Why would the team not want to add this feature and is there any more information you can share?
: It comes from how we each see our connection to the game, and whether you view your account as a collection of accomplishments, or a collection of characters with unique experiences. Part of the draw for some players is a feeling of stepping into a fantasy world that, while not real, feels like maybe it could be real. We saw a lot of interest from the role-playing community with Classic’s original launch, and part of the draw for that audience is that your experiences feel consistent with the world you’re in. Fantasy races are dramatically different species, and while it makes sense if a giant Tauren can stun you with a stomp of their hoof on the ground, while a tiny Gnome can wriggle free from entangling roots, and there’s no in-world reason why a Tauren would be able to suddenly become a Gnome, or vice versa.
On the other hand, PvP players are more concerned about their personal accomplishments and a level playing field than they are with their character’s story. The abilities of each race changed between Burning Crusade and Lich King, and they want access to what’s perceived to be the best abilities, while still being able to keep the accomplishments and titles they’ve already earned.
In Burning Crusade Classic, we granted Seal of the Martyr to Alliance, for example, so it’s not entirely off the table to do something similar here, but it’s a more complicated issue than simply mirroring the Paladin seal. To illustrate why that’s a challenge, let’s go back to the previously mentioned Tauren and Gnome example. Imagine if we gave everyone the Gnome’s power: that would remove the option to use War Stomp for Tauren players, if you thought you had a creative way to use it. Or to provide another example, if we gave everybody the ability to choose any racial in Arena, it would interfere with your ability to predict and counter your opponent. You wouldn’t normally expect to see a War Stomp from a Gnome after all, but it’s something players know a Tauren can do.
We’d like to do something that feels a bit more fantasy-forward to address this concern, but we don’t know exactly what yet. We joked around about disallowing racial abilities entirely and having goblin referees that run onto the field to throw a red card if you use one, and while we likely won’t do anything that silly, that gives you an idea of the way we’d like to address this concern.
On the subject of restricting transfers between PvE and PvP servers and limiting PvP servers to a single faction per account, we’re still talking about it, and will likely have more to say soon.
Wintergrasp in Wrath of the Lich King
Faction Imbalance & Wintergrasp in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
Speaking of factions... The faction imbalance issue is always a topic of discussion regarding Classic. In Wrath of the Lich King, Wintergrasp and Vault of Archavon has a massive impact regarding faction balance. How is the development team going to address this problem? Also, how high does the Tenacity buff stack - I wouldn't mind playing a Rogue with 100 stacks of Tenacity in Wintergrasp!
: When Wintergrasp originally launched it was one of the things that inadvertently drove the faction imbalance on various realms. With faction change available, and the Vault of Archavon locked behind winning Wintergrasp, if your faction couldn’t win, it was probably a better idea to give up and switch factions. While we don’t plan to allow faction change, you could still just transfer to a realm where your faction is dominant, and we don’t want to encourage further faction imbalances. Our current thought is that maybe there will be a back door of sorts to let you into the Vault of Archavon if you don’t currently control Wintergrasp, but that entry will cost something so that you’re still incentivized to compete.
On the other hand, as you identified, there’s just the matter of getting a reasonable match going at all on a realm where one side is heavily dominant. I think you’re onto something with the 100 stacks of Tenacity idea. If the idea of playing as an overpowered underdog appeals to you, maybe it appeals to others! Maybe it’s the thing that would incentivize people to play on the weaker faction? Faction balance has been consistently challenging to address in the history of World of Warcraft, but the imbalance is a result of players playing where they want to, and they like to play where they have an advantage, so maybe stacking Tenacity to the heavens is the answer.
We’re still considering options here as well, but high-stacks of Tenacity and a back door into Vault of Archavon are our current top-contenders for how to handle Wintergrasp. We’re interested to hear what people think of those ideas.
Pre-Nerf & Post-Nerf Boss Encounters in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
One of the most exciting aspects of the upcoming TBC Phase 5 is the pre-nerf boss encounters in Sunwell Plateau. Is this a trend that will carry on to Wrath of the Lich King Classic and can players expect pre-nerf encounters for each raid?
: In Burning Crusade a lot of the encounters, especially in the early part of the game, were launched in an incredibly difficult state and then later nerfed deliberately to allow players to catch up. We introduced the pre-nerf difficulties because it would have felt like a big miss for that expansion to skip the harder versions of the bosses.
That wasn’t the case as much with Wrath of the Lich King. There just weren’t as many “catch-up” nerfs outside of a few outliers such as health nerfs in Naxxramas and direct skips to Sapphiron and Kel’Thuzad. We plan to review those outliers and see if it makes sense to ship those in their original state, but it’s not something we plan to build a pre/post system around this time, since there aren’t as many noteworthy changes as there were in Burning Crusade.
On the other hand, we’re looking forward to the original progressive nerf-aura that got stronger each week in Icecrown Citadel. You were originally able to talk to an NPC to remove the progressive nerf aura entirely, and one thing we’re considering is making the number of stacks selectable, so if your group wants to try it with a little less of a nerf each week, you can tune it down a bit at a time until it reaches its most powerful form.
We think there are plenty of challenges for serious raiders to sink their teeth into between that and the Ulduar hard modes although we recognize that players are considerably more skilled and experienced today than they were in 2009. We’re talking about what we can do to keep things challenging, but we do also want to make sure the raids aren’t so difficult that they turn away speed runners, or players who just want to hang out with their friends and spend an evening smashing internet dragons.
Dwarf Death Knight in Wrath of the Lich King
Stopping Bots in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
Death Knights being able to be created without requiring a level 55 character unfortunately means bot accounts will be able to start at level 55 and can make the botting issue worse. Is the team aware of this possibility and is there any measures to crack down on botting in Wrath Classic?
: We are, and it's one of the reasons you can only make one Death Knight without the restrictions. We don’t want to create a situation where you suddenly have an army of farming alts on realms all over the region.
Player reports of botters seen in the world is one of the things that helps us track them down, and we have an improved right-click reporting system going into modern World of Warcraft now, which will be in Wrath of the Lich King Classic as well. The new system is intended to standardize the categories you report people for so it’s easier to track a report of botting versus cheating of a different kind. It’ll capture some additional information automatically as well that’s meant for helping us to work on it at the scale that the problem occurs on.
During original Wrath, players that had a key to access Algalon the Observer in 10-man or 25-man and weren't already saved to the instance, were able to zone in, take a summon from a Warlock, and unlock the gate, all before being saved to the raid ID. Is this something the development team will put a stop to or is this just a clever use of game mechanics?
: That’s the sort of thing we’d like to fix.
We do appreciate our players’ ingenuity and the creative use of game mechanics, but we like it when those mechanics support the game’s internal logic. Even if that logic is magical or supernatural in nature, it still ought to make sense and be consistent with itself. Raid locks are intended to keep the group that attempted the raid together to prevent an individual from participating in more than one raid in a week. Allowing somebody who’s not in that group to run in and provide a special capability for multiple other raids is counter to that fantasy.
In short, this is just a bug, and we plan to fix it. Thanks for the reminder!
Dual Talent Specialization in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
It was mentioned in a Tweet that Dual Talent Specialization will be in Wrath Classic, but with restrictions. Can you elaborate on these restrictions and why does the team feel it needs to be restricted?
: I’ll start by saying we’re no longer considering any new restrictions beyond what was originally part of the feature. You won’t be able to change specs in combat, or during a battleground or arena match, and it’ll have a cast time and empty your resources so that it’s not something you do on a whim. Those are all things that were originally true, and that’s how we’ll ship it this time as well.
The motivation to consider changing it came from wanting to encourage people to still experiment with interesting specs or hybrid specs. There was a feeling among some of us, including me, that dual spec would lead toward one spec for optimal dps, and one for optimal tanking or healing, and we wanted people to feel like having a spec that balanced those roles and could do either of them pretty well was still a valid choice, so that you could flex into tanking on multi-tank fights, and not feel like a liability on fights that needed fewer tanks or healers. That led to us considering things like a rest-area requirement, using tome of clear mind, disallowing it in dungeons, things like that. But we’ve heard lots of feedback from people saying dual spec gave them freedom to experiment more, which is good, and ultimately, we want the feature to be something players are happy to have access to.
Ring of Valor Arena Map in Wrath of the Lich King
PvP and Arena in Wrath of the Lich King Classic
One of the surprising (and fun) things the development team did in Burning Crusade Classic was add in Tornados for Season 1 Nagrand Arena. Well, in Wrath of the Lich King, Ring of Valor was introduced as an arena map and went through many changes. I believe it was Patch 3.2.0 when the flame walls were removed from the map. Is this something that we might see in Wrath Classic?
: I’m glad you enjoyed them! They certainly led to some memorable moments. We do see part of our mission as providing people some of the memorable experiences of the past, and sometimes things were memorable in part because they had some rough edges. But ultimately, we don’t want to introduce something that feels buggy or inconsistent. We’ve been talking about the Ring of Valor, and there are mixed opinions on the team. Some people want it to launch with no flame walls, others want it to keep the pillar and flame mechanics but be restricted to skirmishes instead of ranked matches. We’ll probably land somewhere in between. My personal favorite idea is to lock the pillars up at launch but leave the flame walls in for one season.
But having said all that, I’m definitely not going to be the one making the final call. We have much more experienced PvP players than I am, and I’m sure they’ll make the right decision once we dig into the details and see how the pillars and flame walls work internally.
And speaking of arena, Engineers were able to enchant their boots with Nitro Boosts, which allowed them to rocket forward. This was usable for some period during original Wrath, before eventually being removed from the game. Could this make a comeback from some portion of Wrath Classic, similar to the Nagrand tornados?
: Possibly, but we’re not sure of the specifics yet. We want your race and your profession to feel like an expression of your character’s identity, and not something you have to constantly change to be competitive in raids or arena. That said, we also like the idea that the first season might be a bit zanier while later seasons get more serious, so it’s still an open discussion. We like having something that mixes up the arena strategy each season, and both Cyclones and our banned-item list served that purpose in Burning Crusade Classic, so we’re likely to do something like that again. We hope that gives people something exciting to look forward to each season, without feeling like they need to be constantly chasing the flavor of the month.
Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on these topics! It was a pleasure!
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