Monday, August 24, 2009

Remaking The World (Of Warcraft) In His (Ghostcrawler's) Image

Looking over the Game Systems Panel notes from Blizzcon, I can't help but think of Elder Game's take on the abortive hunter ammo revamp of patch 3.1. Though there were good reasons to change the system, the results failed to address most of the major issues while leaving the game littered with obsolete crafted and quest reward quivers and ammo pouches. As a veteran of AC2's live team, Eric concludes that this is the sort of thing that the enthusiastic new guy decides isn't going to fly anymore now that they are in charge.

The Crab is correct when he concludes that Wrath era itemization has become a complicated mess. He's also right when he says that the generic 1% crit per point talents are less fun than tree-defining talents like Juggernaut. These are issues that could make rolling new alts to take advantage of the Cataclysm revamp more difficulty.

Though these changes aren't bad in principle, the challenge will be in the implementation and testing. Who can predict where classes will be in terms of power level once you redesign the entire basis of the talent system and simultaneously re-itemize every single piece of gear in the game? If obsolete quivers are what we got from a simple change to hunter ammo, what will fall through the cracks should this ambitious effort fall short?

In the end, it appears that everyone's favorite system designer was not to be left behind as all of his colleagues conduct massive overhauls of their respective areas of the game. The Crab's efforts may not be the most visible - they're not flashy like new races or dramatic like upheaval of the very continents - but he might have bitten off the biggest challenge on the Cataclysm agenda.


Longasc said...

I played a Warlock. Still waiting for the revamp of Doomguards and Infernals. And Soulstones. What happened? They had some ideas that make it easier to farm shards, but so far they did not dare to really solve the issue. One can hardly blame Ghostcrawler, his fellow colleagues of the pre-GC-era did not bother either. He at least tries. :)

This is a bit the problem, they are making so many "quality of life" improvements to make things simpler, like fire no longer requires wood and flint/tinder. Rogue Poisons and all that.

Despite talent tree remakes and all that it still seems to take the duration of full expansion lifecycle to really address core problems. They do a lot of fine-tuning at the moment, while a Cataclysm lies ahead.

Hirvox said...

Actually, a soulstone revamp is one of Cataclysm's announced features. As is the long-overdue revamp (since the first release, actually) of caster stats.

As a programmer, I know how code starts to collect "cruft" when everyone (including the programmers themselves!) just want their tiny little feature/fix implemented with a "just get it working" attitude.. yet nobody's willing to pay for refactoring to make sure things are done right. This goes on for a while. Programmers and designers alike get lost in the details, afraid to implement any major features because they fear they'll break some other part of the system in the process. And they're right. So, the CMs have to use the boilerplate response of "Yes, that would be a nice feature, but we have no plans to implement it at this time". Eventually, the cost in manhours for maintaining an aging, crufty product becomes crippling and some bigwig decides that it's time to bite the bullet and do an overhaul. WoW is at that point now.

evizaer said...

A game system as big and complex as WoW's has such a startling amount of systemic inertia that changing mechanics can lead to a thousand problems that need to be individually solved. You end up with the classic problem of patching a submarine--where once there was one big issue there are now four smaller issues.

Chances are that the new system will be as broken as the old one, only in different ways that may not be as obvious from the beginning. Such wholesale simplifications cannot be successful unless the designer has Promethean foresight and a great deal of testing resources.