Monday, June 14, 2010

Very Public Cataclysm Brainstorming

It was late August 2009, and the stage was set.  Ozzy Ozborne was in the house, and the new WoW expansion, albeit spoiled in advance was ready for its big unveil.  With a room full of frenzied fans and journalists, what better place to hold a brainstorming session to discuss ideas that may or may not make the expansion? 

Or at least, so it seems this past week with several announced features getting the axe in a pre-E3 press event.  The Path of Titans, a somewhat nebulous alternate advancement mechanic that would have struggled to strike a balance between useless and mandatory, is gone.  The new archaeology profession that was to unlock options for the Path will now be used to provide lore tidbits, similar to Warhammer's Book of Knowledge.  Guild talents have been replaced with a more traditional "gain a level, get a perk" system, similar to what Warhammer has.  The revamped heroic modes for iconic low level dungeons - the Deadmines and Shadowfang keep - have been punted to patch 4.1. 

In some ways, it's refreshing to see Blizzard willing to talk publicly about what they're thinking about.  At the time, patch 3.3 was still in the works and the expansion was over a year from launch, so they simply would not have had much to talk about if they hadn't been able to speculate.  Players continue to cite features that were never delivered, such as the original vision of Hero Classes and the Dance Studio, and that might have created even more incentive to clam up. 

Even so, it also feels a bit odd to see this level of what, in hindsight, appears to have been pure brainstorming speculation at a major media event.  The issue with guild talents potentially forcing players to leave their guilds to find someone who was talenting to support their playstyle was an extremely obvious one - it was one of my earliest reactions to the proposed mechanic - and it seems odd for them to be pulling the system over that very valid concern a year later.  Did they have some super-secret plan to address this issue that came up short, or did they literally throw it into a Powerpoint because it sounded cool and they figured they'd have a year to work on the details?

(Aside: In an amusing note, World of Raids learned that the new Guild Reputation, used to encourage players to contribute to their guild before gaining access to rewards,

"is not wiped immediately upon leaving or being removed from the guild; this is to prevent losing all your progress in the guild due to someone jokingly kicking you."
Ah, the joking /gkick, I guess they are playing the same game we are after all.) 

On the plus side, the speculation is now over, and the ramped up info releases seem to point towards the expansion hitting beta in the next month or so.  That said, it will be very interesting to see whether this affects the amount of information we get out of future Blizzcon-type events.


  1. As a developer, it's an interesting conundrum. If you talk about your plans, you have to deal with the fact that some of your plans may not be realized, as in this case. It can build up expectations by the players. Perhaps the most famous instance of this was when a UO developer mentioned something about Necromancy and suddenly some people took that as a solemn vow the system would be added to the game. That was a running gag for years.

    Same thing happened with Meridian 59. People always wanted to know more about what we were working on, but we were such a small team that stuff we talked about might not work out. We had an idea for a big tree monster boss that we just couldn't pull together given the limitations of the M59 engine. We did another area, but it wasn't what we were talking about at one point.

    Blizzard has traditionally been pretty quiet about plans in the past. I wonder if this is going to encourage them to keep plans a bit quieter in the future....

  2. I'd rather have a general idea of where the game is headed, even if it gets toned down or recast, then none at all. The alternative to "public brainstorming" is hearing basically nothing pre-beta.

  3. I don't think this will make much difference. Stuff that seems like a big deal to bloggers and obsessed forum kiddies often has zero visibility to JQP. If they changed the new player race from goblins to smurfs next week, I doubt even half of the playerbase would notice or care.

    That said, Blizzard really didn't qualify their previous announcements very well. As I recall, they said this is "where we are going" rather than "this is where we are headed now." I don't think JQP will be aware that the former equates to the latter for a product that is a year+ out.


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