Wowhead's Exclusive Interview with Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
Yesterday, we sat down with Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak and asked him about some experimental content choices in 5.1, as well as contested topics such as Mists of Pandaria's daily quest system. We previously
interviewed him right before MoP's launch
and it was cool to follow up on many of those topics!
Many fansites will be conducting interviews with Blizzard staff this week, which we'll be rounding up, but for now, all raiders and PvPers will want to check out Ghostcrawler's interviews at
All Things Azeroth
Now that players have settled into MoP, what will keep them out there exploring the world in 5.1?
We tried to do a lot of new things in 5.1--it's very much an experiment for us. We put in a lot of World PvP objectives in 5.1, and to some extent, that's very new. We know one of the problems facing WoW today is that a lot of the servers have an imbalanced population. We wanted to see if we could make PvP work in that environment. From my personal experience, I'm seeing a lot of really cool pvp on servers that have imbalance. For example, I play on a server that's slightly alliance favored--we've had a great time and some incredible fights on the beach. I'm really curious to see the feedback on the other servers, if anything is happening differently there. We're watching it closely and adjusting our future content accordingly.
There's that, and we also think that the Brawler's Guild was a really interesting experiment for us. It's clearly solo content because you're testing your own player power against a series of increasingly difficult monsters, but there's a really interesting community set up when you get into the Guild room. People are giving each other advice, and even the first boss, Bruce the Alligator, is pretty funny. There is a lot of fun little touches there and we really want to see how players interact with that.
What do you think are the defining characteristics of the factions added in 5.1? What new types of things did you experiment with in them? So far I like how the scenarios directly relate to the quest hubs and the epic faction quests.
We had always really wanted to play off the idea of the Alliance and Horde war at full strength, and that's the theme of the patch, which you see along the coast. We wanted to have that questline intermittently tell you more of the story, which unfolds very slowly over the course of a few weeks as you continue with the reputation grind. I love that, and my impression is that players really love it too--once they understood it. However, I don't think it was understood very well at the start. People were wondering "When's the next quest? what's going on." Again, another experiment for us, but I think players will end up liking it.
Another thing we experimented with is those Commissions and all the things you can do with them. I love hiring mercenaries and buffing my allies. I don't see as much of it on the server as I thought, but maybe players will catch on though.
There's also the really interesting, but poorly understood mechanic, of bringing in the boss creatures and capturing them in cages that all players can fight. I think as players can understand it better, it will make more sense. At first, players were just confused by the quests. To reiterate how it works, one player goes out into the world and does a somewhat-time consuming quest to capture one of those beasts, which you can triumphantly bring back to your hub. There's an announcement, a sound that plays, and text on your screen that someone captured it. At this point, you can fight the boss…40 people can fight the boss…the whole server can pile on the crane and fight the boss. If you do at least one boss a day, you'll get a quest pushed to you when you kill it that awards reputation. However, that wasn't expressed well since it's a bit hard to communicate. You are basically a Good Samaritan can spend some time hunting down a mob, which your faction can take advantage of.
At first, 40 people were all at once trying to capture the Crane, and that's an awkward disaster and counterproductive, because only one person needs to do it for the hub. There's no rep rewards for capturing the beast; it's only from killing it. Now that it's more understood, things are better for players.
I think the commendation rewards are pretty cool--the Rodent Crate is a good incentive for non-PvPers to check out the area.
It's a gift for your faction--throw down a crate, and tame some monsters!
Where did the concept of the Brawler's Guild come from? A lot of players at first thought it was a version of the Proving Grounds, although we know that the Proving Grounds is a separate thing now.
For Proving Grounds, we envisioned a place where you could evaluate your performance as a tank or a healer. We were going to set up challenges like, "We'll assign you 4 NPCs to tank, you have to manage threat, do it successfully, and we'll give you a ranking." That's obviously very different from the Brawler's Guild, although if you wanted to test your dps, Brawler's Guild is a good evaluation for that. Unfortunately, there's no way to do Brawler's Guild as a healer or a tank. It's basically how badass of a dps you are at killing monsters.
How did you come up with the atmosphere and the types of solo bosses? I'm picturing a bunch of Blizzard staff reminiscing about their favorite bosses and redoing them.
Brawler's Guild turned out to be a real boon for our quest and encounter team. Once we figured out the format of it, everyone had crazy boss ideas that we wanted to try which were generally inappropriate but fun. Everyone had crazy ideas and wanted to work on a boss, so it was really easy to generate ideas. Who knows, some might become raid mechanics later on!
So we had a lot of fun of it with no shortage for ideas since everyone had a weird boss they wanted to try. We try to theme our raids around an idea, but interesting abilities just don't fit sometimes--however with the Brawler's Guild, anything goes.
Tell us a little bit about the social component of the Brawler's Guild--both players as spectators and the system of limited invitations. At one point on the early PTR, spectators could even throw food that lowered the stats of players.
Really good questions. We redid the Brawler's Guild a lot on the PTR. We originally had things like dirty fighting tactics, as well as objects like rotten bananas, but we decided the real value of this feature is to test your mettle on an even playing ground on a series of bosses. The dirty fighting stuff threw it off…it seemed like cheating.
As for the spectator mode, what we really wanted to get back in the game is impromptu community stuff. Certainly in Cataclysm there was a movement in the game where everyone would hang around the capital cities and only queue for dungeons. There wasn't a lot much going on. We wanted to find a way to bring people together and have them observe stuff and talk about it and be social, in the same way that say…if you go to Orgrimmar on a given server on any night, there's a ton of duels going on. It's the agreed-upon place where you go to duel and be watched. We wanted to replicate that atmosphere--you to go this place, there's something going on, a little community has gathered around to watch.
One thing we wrestled with is that it works great with a certain number of players: somewhere around 5-15, but not 50 people in there. We really struggled with how to make sure there aren't hundreds of people in there at once, and that's part of the reason why the ticket system came into being. I know some players complained about the ticket system, but I really enjoy the effect that it gives. Once you have that Willy Wonka ticket, you feel like you're one of the special people. It spreads things out so everyone isn't packed at once and complaining that the lines are too long. We spread it out to make it feel it's a real accomplishment to get those tickets--either you've got an eye on the AH hoping the prices go down, or you're lucky to get it off a rare mob--or even cooler, your friend ranks up high enough in the guild so he can invite you.
Yeah--I was really glad to see the addition of the rares, and their other items are fun flavor drops too.
I think the rares add a little bit of mystique that helps it out a lot. And we can always tweak the numbers and invites that appear on the AH. We'll play around with that.
I haven't gotten my ticket on live yet--I've been outbid every day. Have you tried it out yet?
I actually haven't yet--I spent a lot of gold finishing my Tier 3 recently, and maybe I'll try to buy a ticket after I sell some Darkmoon Cards this week. I did get pretty far on the PTR though and hopefully we'll have a guide up by this weekend!
The 5.1 scenarios feel a lot more relevant lore-wise than the ones at launch. How did you come up with the faction specific ones? Also, several players have felt that Tyrande was an odd choice for Varian's foil in A Little Patience--why was she used as the headstrong one?
To speak about Tyrande specifically, we wanted to get back to her Warcraft 3 roots, in which she was very much gung-ho. So when we wanted to show Varian's development, we thought she'd be an interesting foil. I've been getting mixed feedback on this. Some people think Tyrande comes across as whiny there, and that's not the intent at all.
The idea was more: "The enemy is right there, they're cornered, let's go in and get them, casualties be damned." And Varian, who has come a long way in this campaign, is like 'I would have done that back in the day, I know what I'm dealing with, I'll be careful now." He made good use of the resources in that battle, which is the main point in the scenario. He's learned his lesson and even says on the beach that a bundle of sticks are not easily broken. He's learning a lot about what it means to be a leader. Certainly the genesis of that scenario was to show Varian's continuing development and what sort leader he's shaping up to be. Wrathion is really interested in studying Varian as well in his 5.1 quests.
As for the Vol'jin event, we certainly we wanted to follow-up on his story and book. If you paid attention during Cataclysm, Vol'jin straight up tells Hellscream that he doesn't trust him and he'll mess up, and when he does, he'll be there to see it. He's always been a threat to Hellscream, so he's been sent to the equivalent of a dark alley now. One interesting thing about that scenario for me is how to tell the story of Garrosh and the coup that we're building up to in a way that engages Horde players. We opted for "You’re this important character: because you're the hero and veteran of Cataclysm and Northrend, a lot of Horde leaders take you into their confidence. As a result, you get to see the story play out over many angles." That's a tough choice to make for the narrative, and we'll see if it pays off.
A lot of the inspiration behind the scenarios goes back to patch 4.2. We had a story that we really wanted to tell about Thrall and Aggra, specifically about Aggra's journey through heaven and earth so to speak, as well as exploring Thrall's character--all of his anger, hopes, fears, and doubts. We did a questline, which unfortunately you could blow through, sometimes with dozens of people in the same zone. You had no way to repeat it and it felt like this very important story moment was under-served.
And so, we thought about conveying similar story moments as scenarios. The nice thing is that you can replay it as much as you want. Again, so much of 5.1 is an experiment, specifically with storytelling and content. I know our game is 8 years old, but that doesn't mean we'll stop experimenting. We're constantly trying to push the envelope. Right now we're trying to tell a lot of stories with scenarios and see how players respond to that.
Going back to some things at MoP's launch: what do you think has turned out well about the new daily system? What surprised you? In my experience, a lot of players really like the vanity rewards and storylines culminating at Exalted, but don't like how dailies feel mandatory with Valor rewards tied to reputation levels.
Your question gets to the real heart of it there. A lot of people, as soon as the expansion launched, felt dailies were mandatory and started grinding their faces off--which is a pretty terrible way to play dailies. The ideas of the daily content is to always have something to do to progress your character. It was never meant for players to do all of them every day. I think that most of the players started to realize that by the time they earned some rewards, they replaced them with normal raid gear, or that they didn't need to do so many dailies to hit their Valor cap and get charms. I think a lot of that was a poor perception at launch and we did a bad job at communicating that to players. So they felt they were mandatory when that wasn't our intent.
I think if you’re a little more casual about dailies and do them when you feel like it and focus on factions that are compelling, its a lot of fun that way. I haven't even started my cloud serpent mount, and I'm really excited about that faction, just had other things to do. I think it really helps players feel like there's always something to do, which is the main point of dailies. We might be able to tweak rewards or how they're presented in the future to get people away from the mindset that they're mandatory in order to be at the top of the curve for personal progression. Mandatory dailies leads to a poor experience, especially if you just want to focus on raiding.
So that was a lesson there. But as for the individual factions themselves, we did a lot of experimenting and tried many new things. Some have been very successful, such as the Tillers. That's been tremendous--even though the rewards really are vanity or cooking items, a lot of people are really engaged.
Something interesting I've noted is that players will gladly spend time tending all of their alt farms, but will put off doing something like killing Mogu for the Golden Lotus. How can this feedback influence future reputation grinds?
You bring up a really good point--one lesson we learned is that while we wanted to have a lot of dailies and content for players, it's hard if you like alts. W want to encourage alt play, but with dailies, we made it a little painful for your alts. We have a few stopgap measures in 5.1 with the charms that give you double reputation which are account wide. That helps your alts feel a little better, although it doesn't completely solve the problem. We definitely went crazy adding tons of content, but we also want you to play all your toons.
Golden Lotus specifically felt a bit grindier than most other factions, between all the Mogu to kill and how it was tied to unlocking other reputations. Do you have any thoughts on why players dislike that faction specifically?
For Golden Lotus, we had the idea that every day you'd start by defending the hub against the mogu, and then you'd fan out. However, what it felt like is, "Every day I have to start at the same place and kill the same thing," so it would be better to just fan you out right away.
Another part of MoP that seemed to surprise some players was how cooking was changed. Can you tell us some of the decisions behind making the materials for max food difficult to acquire this expansion, on top of flavor rewards that take a lot of tokens?
I'm not on the profession team, but I know that we wanted to make sure that the system was integrated with the farm, because that's what makes the farm compelling, You’re not growing vegetables, but rather many materials that can be used in different ways. We wanted to add complexity to Cooking so you had interesting decisions. Looking at player engagement, I think that's successful and you're going to see more professions having interesting choices in the future.
With regards to the top-end food…it's only above the previous tier's food by a minor amount, but it's a nice way of giving you that extra something. It's not urgent and your raid will be fine without the best food, but if you want to put in the time, you can make sure your food is just a little bit better.
And that's the other thing: there's a min/max mindset out there. "You want the best feasts! Our raid needs the best feasts! We need to be the best you can be!" Sometimes, it's a lot of time to get that extra +25 stats. If it's a horrible agonizing pain to get that extra feast, it's okay. The game plays just fine with the other feast. Sometimes it's hard to get that across.
One last question: We were all really excited to read about the Black Temple quests for Warlocks datemined in 5.1, and were sad to see that had been pushed back. How do you handle class-based quests and can we look forward to more?
It will definitely happen. We love class-based quests, but we also want to feel that they should be cool. They should play off class mechanics and class themes. One of my jobs is to schedule everyone's time across all patches and expansions, and it does take a considerable amount of time to do something really cool like heroic legendary quests. If we did quests for every class, that would be a huge time commitment. We've backed down a little with class-specific quests, but if we have cool ideas, we'll squeeze in class specific quests or areas like the Peak of Serenity.
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