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Mists of Pandaria interview: ready for panda-monium?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012 11:41 GMT By Dave Cook

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is incoming – patch 5.0.4 went live today – and is set to shake up Blizzard’s MMO in many ways. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with the team to learn more about the biggest changes.

“This new system is the culmination of progressive iteration that we’ve been doing on it over the course of several years. From Cataclysm to 5.0.4 we’re moving from a 51-point talent tree to 31-point talents. We looked at the talent trees as they existed and, frankly, we found them boring.”

The MMO market is an ever-shifting sea of change, innovation and volatility that only the strongest and most forward-thinking titles can navigate unscathed.

Even World of Warcraft – arguably the most successful MMORPG to date – isn’t immune to the dangers of the industry, with dipping subscriber figures becoming a recent reality.

But big changes are coming with patch 5.0.4 – which launched this morning – and new expansion Mists of Pandaria, including new talent trees and a pet battle system.

VG247 caught up with Blizzard lead encounter designer Ion Hazzikostas and lead game producer John Lagrave to find out why these changes could be for the better.

Mists of Pandaria is out September 25. You guys must now be in crunch time fixing up loose ends and such?

John Lagrave: Yeah we’re wrapping things up. Almost every bit of content from the game is in the beta right now for our players to check out, and to
tell us about.

We’re at a stage of bug fixing in terms of development, so we’re going through and just crushing bugs left and right. So we’re very, very pressed. We’re a month away basically from releasing the box itself to the public, so yeah, we’re so close we can see it.

What have been the biggest trends from the beta, or the prevalent issues you have had to resolve in the run up to launch?

Ion Hazzikostas: One of the things we revamped was the intro zone in Pandaria as you’re coming in. We redid both the Horde and Alliance starting zones to give you a better sense of where you are in the world, what the conflict is, what the different factions are, and how they’re all interacting. That was a massive part of our revamp, thanks to player feedback

John Lagrave: These past couple of months we’ve been been doing intensive testing of all our raids on the beta servers, and we got a lot of positive feedback there, as well as iterative changes based on the conflicts we’ve seen out there in the world

We also released the pet battle system on the beta servers a few weeks ago, and the feedback there has really been fantastic. People have been going all around the world collecting pets, levelling them up and just experiencing the system.

The pet system isn’t just confined to Pandaria either, you’ve rolled it out across the whole world.

Ion Hazzikostas: Yeah, it applies to every single zone in the world from Elwynn Forest through the Dread Wastes has actual pets that you can battle and acquire to extend your collection.

There’s also a pet trainer quest line that sees your character training pets across all of the continents and using their pet’s skills to overcome battles.

You’re already on to a big franchise in World of Warcraft but it now it sounds like you just rolled Pokémon and WoW together. That’s like a license to print money. Would you flesh the pet battle side out more if it sticks?

John Lagrave: The pet battle system isn’t just this wild thing that we’re going to abandon after its implemented. It’s something we’ve put a lot of time into, we have lots of cool ideas for it. There was so much stuff we didn’t put into it for Pandaria.

Ion Hazzikostas: Yeah, and the idea for the battles came from having pets in the game for a long time. Initially, we had a couple of dozen pets, but then we kept on adding more and more.

We noticed that players were happy to collect them all just to show them off, so we’ve always wanted to do something with the pet system. Players got really attached to certain pets, they perhaps farmed items for hours and hours to get a particular pet, and this seemed like a very natural extension of that.

It is a big change, just like your new skill system is a big change. Can you give us more insight into why you decided to overhaul such a fundamental part of the game?

Ion Hazzikostas: Sure. The new skill system is something all players from level 15 are going to experience immediately, and from when our 5.0.4 patch goes out, all players will be able to see those changes.

This new system is the culmination of progressive iteration that we’ve been doing on it over the course of several years. From Cataclysm to 5.0.4 we’re moving from a 51-point talent tree to 31-point talents.

We looked at the talent trees as they existed and frankly, we found them boring. You know, stuff like adding plus 1-5% to the damage of your fireball. That just isn’t interesting as a choice, unless you’re like a fire mage and you’re like, ‘Oh, I cast fireballs all the time, this will make them that little bit better.’

But you wouldn’t be different from everyone else because every Fire Mage in the game would have chosen that option. If you didn’t you’d just be making yourself weaker than them, so that just didn’t make for interesting gameplay.

What was the solution?

Ion Hazzikostas: So what we’ve done is, we looked at the talents everyone felt obligated to take and just gave them to you for free. With the Fire Mage, his fireball now just hits harder, or if you’re an Arms Warrior and you’re supposed to have Mortal Strike, we now saw, ‘here, have Mortal Strike’.

We took the remaining things and what we often found was that – say you spend 33 points in one talent tree – maybe 29 of those were just power increases that felt mandatory.

Mists of Pandaria’s opening CG.

The thing is, those last few points actually came down to some interesting decisions. Like OK, I’ve got all the ‘mandatory’ stuff, but now do I want to move faster or take a shield that protects me from damage?

What if you couldn’t have both and that choice made my gameplay that little bit different from everyone else? That was the cool part, but the reality was that this only accounted for 5% of your actual talent points. Now it’s 100% of your talent points.

So it’s a matter of giving people less arbitrary choices but making those choices more impactful?

Ion Hazzikostas: Yeah, and we really have distilled our system down into six meaningful choices between three sets of choices that have been balanced against each other.

They’re mutually exclusive, and what that means is, today, in a 4.3 environment, two Fire Mages probably have the exact same capability and talents, but after 5.0.4 there will be hundreds of possibilities when it comes to the talents they can have.

If people are currently putting in hours of play and grinding to simply receive a +1% stat increase, that could be putting players off. Is this new format an attempt to get players to stick around for the long term?

Ion Hazzikostas: It’s an attempt to make a better system, and I think we’ve succeed in that.

John Lagrave: The cookie cutter approach of, ‘I’m going to level up and take exactly what I need from this spec that every other player has chosen’, doesn’t make for a rich environment, and we wanted to move away from that.

We’ve tried repeatedly to do that, and I think we’ve got a much better format going into 5.0.4 with this new system.

It’s that classic blancing thing isn’t it? It’s where people figure out the best, most powerful set up and people just start spamming it.

John Lagrave: Yes, exactly, and 29 out of those 51 choices were being made pretty much the same for every Fire Mage, and along the way there was maybe only two actually different, or interesting choices.

How much of this new 5.0.4 content will be available to free-to-play players

Ion Hazzikostas: At level 15 they’re going to get their first choice, their first talent tree choice, and our free-to-play Starter Edition is up to level 20 so they will experience that.

Another choice will see Pandaren players pledging their allegiance to either the Horde or Alliance at some point too.

John Lagrave: If you’re a neutral Pandaren, you begin your adventure on the back of a giant turtle swimming through the ocean. You’re going to be learning about the Horde and Alliance, and finally as a culmination of what you’ve learned, you’re going to make your decision.

At that point this neutral panda will then take on either side as well as either Horde or Alliance abilities.

How far will this choice impact on the Padaren narrative once it is made?

John Lagrave: Well at the start you’re going to be making your way through the old world, through the Burning Crusade and Litch King expansions, and all of that content. That’s all going to be the same.

Ion Hazzikostas: Just to add to that, one of the narrative themes in our expansion is that there’s this massive conflict between the Alliance and the Horde that’s coming to a head and it’s sweeping all of Azeroth. Everyone has to pick sides, they can’t stand in the middle because it sweeps up everything, and that includes the Pandaren as well.

Is it correct to say that Blizzard originally wanted a manual, almost hack n’ slash combat style for the Pandaren race?

Ion Hazzikostas: That was for the Monk class, which can be played by any race besides Worgen and Goblin, so not specifically Pandaren players. But yes, we experimented with the Monk class in early stages of the beta, by not giving it auto-attack.

But it didn’t feel right, so we took it out. It was one of those things where it didn’t fit with how our combat feels. It didn’t take long to fight a low level monster and it’d be down to 5% health and some people would just stop pushing buttons, thinking that they would just finish it off automatically.

So people would just sort of stand there [laughs], while this monster isn’t dying. I mean, we thought it would give the Monk class a different feel from other classes, but that wasn’t the right way to go about it.

It was a bit like trying to get a hack n’ slash element in there. The Monk is a martial artist that attacks quickly, with a one second global cool-down which is quicker than most other classes.

In our designer’s minds they thought, ‘Maybe this would feel more visceral in that, every button I press will have a result, and I’ll feel more of a connection with the combat.’ The reality was it didn’t fit.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is out September 25.

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2 Comments

  1. ManuOtaku

    Pandamonium that reminded me the cartoon show, back in the 80´s, good show at least thats how i recall it, i never saw it since, it didnt have a lot of re-runs here in my country, i did like it back in the day.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Tiffania

    Sounds interesting

    #2 3 years ago

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    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 will be released in November, according to what appears to be a leaked GameStop store promo posted on Kotaku. The exact date is November 6, which isn’t a surprise to anyone. On the promo, it notes that those who pre-order will be granted beta access for PC, PlayStation 4 […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Double XP and Elite Bonus weekend has kicked off

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare players can earn Double XP along with Elite Bonus on all platforms. There is even Double XP and Double Weapon XP on offer for Black Ops 2. The dry run is over. Prep for the Sunday reveal of #BlackOps3 begins now. 2XP/2XweapXP is live. pic.twitter.com/rn6SVtVJbY — Treyarch Studios (@Treyarch) April […]

  • Atlus makes “minor edits” to Dungeon Travelers 2 in order to avoid AO rating

    Atlus has announced it has made “minor edits” to four in-game images contained in Dungeon Travelers 2 to avoid an AO rating by the ESRB. According to a press release from the company, localization sometimes require changes to content in order for it to be “understood en masse,” which is why it worked closely with […]

  • Battlefield Hardline is 40% off through Origin this weekend

    The standard edition of Battlefield Hardline on PC is 40% off this weekend through EA’s Origin service. The Digital Deluxe Edition is also 40% off and includes various Battlepacks unavailable in the standard version. You can also pick up the Battlefield Hardline Ultimate edition for 23% off, which comes with all four planned expansions through […]

  • Submerged is an exploration-adventure game coming to multiple platforms

    Submerged is the latest title in development from Uppercut Games, and the exploration-adventure game is coming to PlayStation 4 and other platforms this year. The game takes place in a flooded city which Miku and her wounded brother Taku have reached by boat. Miku needs to find a safe place for her brother to rest […]

  • These screenshots for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt show superb attention to detail

    Some gorgeous new screenshots for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have surfaced, and a couple are wallpaper worthy. Especially the one with the horse, but as you’re well aware, I’m horse crazed. The images below in the gallery have been scaled to fit properly, but if you head over to NeoGAF you can bask in […]

  • Namco kicks off Humble Store partnership with Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin

    Namco Bandai has started offering its PC titles on Humble Store, and this includes the recently released Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. Other titles include Dragon Ball Xenoverse, and Project Cars. “In Japan, the Bandai Namco Group companies are known for supporting different charity programs and we are very happy to be […]

  • World of Tanks: 2,000 Bonus codes to give away

    Already have a World of Tanks account? We’ve got 2,000 codes for players to top up their Gold and Premium days. This weekend sees the World of Tanks Grand Finals take place in Poland, and we’ve got a bunch of game codes to give away to celebrate. Each Bonus PC code offers 150 Gold and […]

  • Mad Max contains Top Dog camps with boss fights

    Mad Max will have bases which vary in difficulty, some of which are considered a “finale” for a particular region and feature a boss fight. Speaking in the latest issue of GamesMaster via GamesRadar, the game’s producer John Fuller said this allows players to tailor their experience by deciding how much of a challenge they […]

  • Just Cause 3 gameplay trailer reveal coming next week

    Mark your calendars for Tuesday, April 28, because you won’t want to miss the gameplay reveal of Just Cause 3. Avalanche tweeted the date along with a teaser, as seen below. The box art has also made an appearance. Keep an eye on the game’s YouTube page, and we’ll be sure to post the video […]

  • First paid Skyrim Steam Workshop mod has been pulled

    Valve’s new incentive which allows modders to charge for their creations hasn’t been live for 24 hours yet, and already, one mod has been pulled. The mod in question was Chesko’s Fishing Mod for Skyrim, which the creator pulled after a community member questioned whether Chesko had permission from the creator of the character-idle animations […]

  • Resident Evil HD Remaster has sold over one million copies worldwide

    The HD remaster of Resident Evil has sold over one million copies worldwide since its January 20 release, Capcom has announced. The company attributed the sales milestone to producing a “great product” along with excellent word of mouth and praise from fans. In February, Capcom said Resident Evil HD Remaster was its fastest-selling digital title […]

  • The Crew: the Raid Car Pack and Raid Live Update now available for download

    The Crew players can now download the Raid Car Pack which is the last of four themes car packs. The Raid Live Update is also available, and it contains six new tuning specs. The car pack contains three new cars: the 2012 Cadillac Escalade, the off-road 2011 Volkswagen Touareg NF and the McLaren F1 supercar. […]

  • Geralt is very professional in the latest Witcher 3: Wild Hunt TV spot

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a new TV spot that’s short and to the point. The latest Witcher 3 trailer comes in the form of TV spot. It’s all CGI, and it looks good. If you’re more into gameplay trailers, the latest one will serve you well. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out […]

  • Steam roguelike sale is live, offers deep discounts on a stellar collection of titles

    If you’re into challenging, procedurally-generated, and infinitely-replayable games, Steam’s current sale will hook you up. Steam is hosting a sale on roguelike games. Plenty of titles in the genre are on sale for upwards of 75% off. Highlights include Risk of Rain at 75% off, Don’t Starve at 66% off, Spelunky at 75% off, FTL: […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 finally gets online co-op in Raid Mode on Xbox One

    Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has been patched to support online play in Raid Mode on Xbox One. The Xbox One version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 lacked online support in Raid Mode for a long time. Until today. A new patch has been released to bring that version in line with the rest of them. […]

  • A section in Killing Floor 2′s EULA about cyberbullying is riling up some fans

    Killing Floor 2 has recently got into a bit of trouble with some fans due to a clause in its EULA that gives the developer the right to revoke a user’s license without prior notice. The Killing Floor 2 EULA – just like many others found in modern games, has a section dedicated to cheating […]

  • World of Tanks: 2,000 free tanks and in-game cash to giveaway

    To celebrate the World of Tanks grand finals this weekend we’ve got some great freebies to give away to new players. We have 2,000 PC invite codes to giveaway, with each one offering new accounts a T2 Light Tank, 100 Gold and 1 Days Premium worth around €8.00. All you need to do is enter […]

  • Marvel announces partnership with Telltale, first game due in 2017

    Marvel and Telltale have entered into a partnership that will allow the developer to work on a new game series, due in 2017. Telltale has announced that it has partnered with Marvel Games, Marvel Entertainment’s video games division, for the development of a new game series. No indication was given as to what the new […]

  • Destiny: Bungie is not saying no to a player trading system

    Bungie has not completely ruled out the idea of bringing a trading system to Destiny. Destiny does not offer any way for players to trade items amongst themselves. But ever since the game’s release, players have never stopped asking Bungie to add one in. While the developer does not have a satisfying answer, it’s still […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for April 24, 25 – MIDA Multi-Tool edition

    The weekend Exotics market run by Xur: Agent of the Nine is now open for business. Destiny’s bizarre vendor, Xur, has arrived at the Tower. Xur is your man if you’re looking for Exotic armour or weapons. Not only that, but he will also let you exchange your old Exotic gear for new, upgraded versions. […]

  • Warcraft movie delayed yet again

    The Warcraft movie will no longer hit theatres in March 2016. The release date of the Warcraft movie has been pushed back by three months. The movie was expected in March 2016, but Legendary Pictures announced yesterday that it is now due on June 10, 2016. No reason was given for the delay. This is […]

  • Destiny: Iron Banner returns on April 28

    Destiny’s Iron Banner PvP event will return this Tuesday. Bungie has announced that the Iron Banner, it’s once-every-few-weeks PvP event, will make a return with next week’s weekly reset. It was initially due this week, but because of the recent Crucible changes that were implemented with patch 1.1.2, Bungie wanted to wait and see. That […]

  • Deus Ex devs take the piss out of Black Ops 3

    Deus Ex developers have been having a bit of a laugh at the expense of Call of Duty’s official Twitter account. You would be forgiven to think that yesterday’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 ‘Ember’ teaser was part of an ad campaign for a Deus Ex game, with all the biohacking, wearable tech, augmentation, […]

  • Bungie weekly update: Commendations begone

    Destiny’s weekly update is here to determine the fate of all those Commendations you’ve been earning in the past few months. Bungie started off this week’s update with a recap of the details revealed during the recent livestream. There wasn’t really anything on this front that they haven’t talked about already. With the exception of […]

  • This GTA 5 trainer lets you play as almost anything and it’s the best thing ever

    Want to play GTA 5 as a monkey, a cat, a fish, a deer or some other non-human thing that we eat or keep as a pet? ScriptHook has you covered. Not only can you play as critters, it change other game values, according to an explanation from PC Gamer. These values include making changes […]

  • EA Sports moves Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR release date to July

    EA Sports has announced Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR will be released in July. Originally announced for June, the golf game will now release the same week as the Open Championship at St. Andrews, on July 14. EA also provided some more color on gameplay features such as the ability to customize the game by borrowing […]

  • Jason Voorhees joins Mortal Kombat X in May, Kombat Pack owners get first dibs

    Jason Voorhees will arrive for Mortal Kombat X players in May, NetherRealm Studios announced today during the latest Kombat Kast. Jason will be shown for the first time on Monday, May 4 during a special Kombat Kast. According to EventHub which watched the livestream, the developer will also show off the character’s move and Variations. […]

  • The Witcher 3: Nvidia heads to Poland for a behind-the-scenes look – video

    A video for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been released, taking you behind-the-scenes with CD Projekt RED. Nvidia’s GeForce crew went to the firm’s studio in Poland to talk with the game’s executive producer John Mamais, who provides a look at the PC version of the upcoming RPG. CD Projekt, according to the video […]

  • Microsoft notes decline in Xbox unit sales for Q3 FY15 to 1.6 million

    Microsoft reported its Q3 FY15 earnings today, citing growth in Xbox Live usage as one of the contributing factors to the firm’s reported revenue. However, the firm noted a decline in units sales for its Xbox consoles during the quarter. Microsoft Q3 2014 (yoy comparison) Microsoft Q1 fiscal 2015 Microsoft Q2 fiscal 2015 The firm […]

  • Powerplay is a new feature included in the Elite: Dangerous May update

    The next update for Elite: Dangerous is coming next month and it includes a new feature called Powerplay. According to Frontier Developments, Powerplay allows players to participate in an ongoing battle that “enhances every aspect” of the game. Players can become allies with a number of galactic Powers and guide their strategy, pursue objectives in […]

  • Facebook says it’s “too early” to discuss large-scale shipments of Oculus Rift

    Facebook has said it is “too early” to discuss large-scale shipments of Oculus Rift as the VR headset is still in the development stages. Speaking during a call to investors, Facebook CFO David Wehner said the company had nothing to announce regarding the amount of stock it expected to ship. “We have not announced any […]

  • Battlefield Hardline’s first patch and rental server program hits next week

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch has a release date for both consoles and PC. PC & Console patch and RSP for Consoles coming April 28th. Fixes include TDM spawns and more: http://t.co/BZYJeomPlr pic.twitter.com/27TCiY8hmf — Battlefield (@Battlefield) April 23, 2015 The update will include fixes to Punkbuster, Nvidia DirectX drivers, TDM spawns, contains weapon balance tweaks and […]