During Blizzcon, they hosted a panel called ‘Design Retrospective’. This panel featured Brian Holinka, Jeremy Feasel, Jonathan LeCraft, Owen Langdren, and Paul Kubit as they discussed Legion and all it brought to us. Below, I will do my best to break down the topics – showing you a few screenshots here and there as well.
The Broken Shore: Jeremy Feasel (Senior Game Designer)
The team started with the concept of Azuna, loving the art style and the direction of which it was going with its history, they continued into the different stories they wanted to tell on the Broken Isles. For example, the story of the ancient elves who live there and what happened to them. The sinking of the continent and it rising again. Liking that art design and the fact that the Broken Shore is connected to Suramar via land bridge, they continued in that direction. Below was their first concept of how it was designed – obviously this design did not make it into the game.
Taking from the Warcraft 3 experience, they added some of the pretty undersea life there. Adding color, demons, and felstorm this ended up being the final concept. The beginning of the invasion, before it was overrun.
Now was the time for the first play test, testing the length and the pace of the game.
Standing things up early before designs are finished, the team likes to test the length and the pace of the game as well as seeing if they were creating the story they wanted to tell. In the first play test there were some things that we would never see, such as Gnomes vs. Ruins. To get past a giant pillar you would jump into gnomish gyrocopters to blow it up. Beyond that lay a pristine city that would look completely different from everything else on the broken shore – untouched for centuries. In this city there would be Tyrande standing within a circle of her dead foes. Surrounding her were the ghosts of the elven priestess that used to worship with her. Tyrande is evil (she was being mind controlled – cause that’s what dreadlords do). After beating her down to 30%, she then rises up calling to the mother moon to dispel this illusion that caused her to lose her mind. This shattered the illusion which caused the buildings to crumble and the plant life to wither. You would learn this was Tichondrius and his brother’s doing and you would then complete the quests pertaining to that. On a side note, there were more faction path crossings, like the alliance being able to see the horde in instances and such. They went a little crazy with this idea at first. Because of this, the experience would take 3+ hours. That’s significantly longer than the experience we ended up with.
By doing the play test they felt like they were not telling the story the way they wanted, so what went wrong? Something was missing, the Legion. They were not focused on what was cool about the expansion.
So they sent the scenario back to the artists to focus on the Legion being here with their new toys to destroy us.
Thinking about this as a Warcraft 3 army, how would they bring in their structures? What would their units be? What would their defensive structure look like? The artists came back to them with this concept…a Legion command citadel shooting a fel siege out into our world. Structures grew from the ground and spewed out demons. This was a new version of the Legion they had never seen before… it was amped up!
This version of the Legion was scary and powerful enough to kill off some our major lore characters. Sending it back to the artists one more time though to make it feel like the ultimate expression of power for the Legion, They came up with this:
Loving this art style, they applied it to the rest of the Broken Shore.
The Demon Hunter: Jonathan Lecraft (Senior Game Designer)
The first idea of demon hunters came about in Burning Crusades. When they got a second chance in Legion to get this idea off the ground, they didn’t waste a minute. In fact, within about three days there was an internal build where you could make a demon hunter have a few abilities and even sorta look the part. And what that allowed them to do is to start a really cool feedback loop. People could easily play and then give feedback. After a few weeks of this they took a look at their core philosophies:
Let’s discuss some of the individual abilities, such as the eyebeam. It started out with them talking about the Illidan fight and someone said ‘eyelasers’. At the time they thought it was ridiculous but of course, they had to do it! The first prototype was very simple; a beam from your eyes to the target. Meh! They tried again and now you could hover in the air and channel your beam into the ground controlling its focus with the movement of your mouse. Though ability this felt pretty cool and different it had a problem. Most mobs don’t move around that much so you wouldn’t be moving the laser very much and it wouldn’t feel heroic. When they got an awesome idea on storyboard from the artists. The team implemented it into the game and tried it out. The eyes shot out arching energy balls that slam down around the opponent and finished in a frontal laser like beam. Feeling like it was a little too over powered… it was decided they should split that ability in two. Fel barrage and eyebeam.
Another ability with a humble beginning was felrush. It started as a simple charge to the target with a big chuck of damage at the end. It was functional but they wanted something a bit more unique. They took over the target requirement making it like a short dash which could damage everything. To make it really unique, they took away the law of gravity. This was pretty awesome. However, there was one problem, you could be launched to your death. To fix this they got inspiration from the game, Mega-Man. The fix was simple, If you’re on the ground you stick to the ground. If you’re in the air when you press the ability you stay in the air. The power was given to the players.
Moving on to talk about Metamorphosis. From the very beginning, the team saw the early art and thought this was going to epic. The form will sell itself and not much will need to be done other than adding a damage boost during that time.
The feedback from testing however, was not positive. Players felt like nothing was happening. The fix for this should have been simple, just double it. Only now the complaints were still the same… players couldn’t feel the change. They doubled it again. So yes, it was noticeable that things were dying a lot faster but it was still missing something.
In that moment the team realized that the change needed to be more visceral. First they added the Illidan style leap/stun. Then came the haste bonus, which makes you press buttons faster which you can feel. The damage was concentrated into two abilities so you could more easily see where it was coming from.
The development team wanted the artifact weapon to the ultimate expression of power and fantasy. A weapon so powerful you would wonder how it could ever become better than it already is. Examples of this idea were already seen in lore: Ashbringer, Doomhammer, Frostmourn. To be able to explore this idea they had to pick one weapon and explore this new concept – they chose Ashbringer. Because there were so many great ideas for powers on the weapon, the team knew that there could never be just one power, just as they also know that only a ret pally could be the ones to wield this weapon, thus unique to specialization. Now that it was decided there would be a multitude of powers within a weapon they were faced with the question of how the powers would be presented to the players.
Their first solution was a 1.0 talent tree, but this required players to make a huge choice of how their character was going to play for the rest of the expansion. No good!
So back to the drawing board. Going in a completely different direction, they decided to try different tiers of powers where you buy up all of tier one before being able to unlock things in tier two. This however just removed choice altogether. Again, no good!
Now that they had the answer to how the powers were going be delivered to the player, the next question to answer was; what does the weapon do? Looking back throughout the history again the team knew all of the weapons should have a strong passive effect.
However, players wondered how it might change their character when they equip their artifact. So they went back to the drawing board.
Now you have your power and you know what will happen when you pick up the artifact, the only thing left is the origin. How will you increase your weapon experience? This idea started off as mirroring the experience bar. You could get the experience as you quested and killed things. While this seemed like a good idea it quickly diverged players too fast. The answer to the problem, they thought, would be to put a cap on it. However, this removed the incentive to play once the cap was reached.
Artifact knowledge was the answer.
He started this discussion off by addressing the PvP goals: attracting more people to it. At first, they just figured that some people just did not like the idea of player vs player. However, with the release of Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm, they knew more people could be reached. So they had to ask the question, “What’s the problem?” Was it gear? Was the PvP required gear putting a wedge into the community saying that either you’re a PvE player or a PvP player? So they tried removing the gear difference. This did not work, gear is what makes players feel unique. The next attempt was to scale the gear but the problem was that it took away the pursuit of gear. So instead, the way to fix it they made a hybrid approach. Normalized but your stats increased with item level. Because they decided to reduce the impact of gear the team decided that players needed more progression into PvP, so it felt worthwhile. Thus, the honor bar comes into play. The Honor bar alone was not enough though. Rewards were added. This was the perfect opportunity to add spells and abilities that made a lot of sense for PvP but not PvE. Behold the honor talent system:
The problem with honor talent system was the question of how to unlock the abilities. Doing it like normal talents going left to right you would have to reach max level in order to have an option in every row. That seemed like a problem. So now we unlock talents one at a time going down each column. This means by level 10 you will have an option in every row. It might not be the best choice but you are effectively at full power. After that, as you lever up, it’s more about customization.
Even with all this redesign it still didn’t really give any incentive to players who were not currently playing PvP. Thus the goal still isn’t being met; getting more players into PvP. So compelling rewards were created.
Knowing for a long time that they wanted professions to be more than just a bunch of recipes, they figured the best way to make that happen was in form of quests. Picking two profession to use as a base for their build they went to work on creating the content. For blacksmithing (a crafting profession) they started in Azuna making a prototype quest line. Making it fairly simple and linear as the player leveled up. They were happy with it. However when it came to Mining (a gathering profession) they tried something a little more organic. Finding a cool rock or a creature coming out to attack you as you gathered and taking things back to your trainer so that you could gather more effectively. Liking the way the prototypes were turning out, they based all the other major professions on this.
Knowing that if they were to add quest lines for secondary professions it would overload the quest log ,they decided to keep it more simple. For example: fishing, there are very few quests related to it and are they are unlocked through achievements, like the Fishing Artifact Underlight Angler. The Angler actually started off as a joke that no one said no to so they rolled with it and are now really pleased with the outcome.
Yes, they did notice in WoD that raids were being made to farm the garrison for fishing. While at first it sent the team in a panic on how to fix this, in the end, they decided they liked the idea of people fishing together and so for now, it remains.
Something that works well with Nomi is the fact that he gives you a reason to check into Dalaran every few days. However it was realized very soon that there were some flaws. While trying to fill up an empty loot box when a recipe didn’t proc it was decided to add a funny gray item <badly burned food>. Now this item could have been named anything but by the time action could be taken for it memes had already spread throghout the internet and he was now famous for being a terrible cook. While this was not intended it does now give us the ability to let Nomi grow into something more.
Some new features were added to professions. For gathering professions, nodes and herbs are now shared up to ten players. Making this shareable was a step in the right direction. The bad part of this is that skinners do not get to participate in this new shareable resource system. A fix is in the works for this. For now – players, be nice to your skinners and loot your corpses they have it rough.
Next was talking about the recipe ranks. While this works well, they are not sure it is tuned properly. Many of the rank one recipes are gated behind a long quest line while rank two could be bought from vendors. Maybe this should have been the other way around.
Lastly, the obliterum forge. This allows you to upgrade the quality of your crafted gear. For the most part this is working just as intended. The only small problem is that the actual visceral experience of obliterating something, especially small ticket items is really lacking.
What’s to come in the future with professions? Wanting to keep every profession viable, new recipes will continue to come out. Crafting gear will go up to 865 next patch(7.1.5), and there may even be a way to craft legendaries. However, that last part is just an idea and not even in production at the moment.
When approaching the world quest system there was one major question to answer; how do we improve on dailies? To answer this, the team took a look back, especially to MoP. There it felt like a continuation to the story line that was already in play. Drawing from that inspiration, they made goals.
The first question when creating something like this is; how many icons is a good number to have on the map? There is a certain number that just feels right and the amount of time it takes to get from one to the other. The one thing that can’t be changed is the size of the map, so answering this question must be first.
Because the above felt like too many things to do in one space, they cut it back slightly and then made play test instructions, a guide to help to finish the quests. They sent out the prototype for everyone to test. The feedback was positive. This idea turned into a more modern system that we see today.
Putting these into action – all of a sudden there were too many world quests and people felt like it was overwhelming. They wanted a ‘smaller-bite’. So they came up with an idea inspired from Hearthstone. A way to inspire you to go to a different zone each day. Thus giving us the emissary system. This means that it will be very rare that your adventure will be the same two days in a row.