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AusGamers World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria 5.2 Patch Developer Interview with Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
Post by Khel @ 04:03pm 07/03/13 | Comments
AusGamers catches up with Blizzard Entertainment Lead Quest Designer, for a chat about content plans in the freshly-launched 5.2 update for World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. [a special thank you to Una Harris for transcription assistance]

AusGamers: Daily quests have been a big part of Mists of Pandaria so far, so I’m just wondering what lessons you’ve learnt so far from the dailies and factions that you’ve offered at launch and in 5.1, and how the new daily quests and the new factions in 5.2 take these lessons into account and how they differ from what we have seen so far?

Dave Kosak: Let’s see… I’m glad you asked that question, because that is actually one of the biggest features, and sort of the biggest sticking points of Mists of Pandaria. I’ll tell you the design intent.

A lot of people play World of Warcraft, and people play for different reasons, and we all felt like, if you were really into group content, if you were really into dungeons and raids, there was lots of great content for you --you hit max-level and you have all kinds of great stuff to do. But if you wanted to play solo content --you just wanted to play your class, and enjoy your max-level character-- you hit the max-level and then there was nothing for you to do. This was especially true in Cataclysm. You hit max-level and there was nothing for you to do if you weren’t in a guild that was raiding, so you rolled an alt.

We wanted to give players more things to do, so that at level 90 your game was just beginning --there’s plenty of content to choose from-- and we certainly did that. We certainly add a lot of factions, a lot of things to do, a lot of dailies… a lot of things to do.

Now, the biggest criticism, and I think it’s a valid one, is people felt obliged to do the dailies. They felt it was required that they do all the dailies so that they can keep up, and we never intended for the dailies feel mandatory. It’s terrible when you feel like “Oh I have to go ahead and do all my dailies today”. And so, I was kind of hoping, that after a couple of weeks it would shake out, and people would be like “Oh we don’t really need to do these, because look, I can just get my raid finder drops and my normal raiding loot and I’ll be fine”. But it didn’t really shake out that way.

Players, even today, still feel it’s mandatory to do all the daily quests in order to gear up, and that is probably the last thing we want to take away from… you know… going forward, we definitely don’t want dailies to feel mandatory. We want them to feel rewarding, but not required for people who aren’t interested in solo content.

That’s a tough balance, and clearly from the player feedback, we didn’t hit that balance in 5.0.

So for 5.2, the gear you can get from the factions is certainly not required. It might help you catch up if you weren’t doing a lot of raiding in 5.0, but for the most part the major gear is going to be on the Shadow Pan Assault, and those are the Shadow Pan that are geared specifically toward fighting the raid, so you get that reputation by going into the raid and fighting stuff.

So the raid gear is acquired by doing raids, which is cool. And the daily quest factions are more geared towards some kind of cool flavour items, and a cool mount at exalted. So that you shouldn’t feel obliged to do the dailies.

That said, there is plenty of stuff to do on the island. There is plenty of content to do on the island, that will keep people engaged --either solo or group content. We have all these summonable bosses, opportunities to get these rare keys that you can use to break into the treasure vaults of the Mogu, and then you have a five minute timer to grab as much loot as you can. So there are a lot of things for all kinds of players to do.

We continually experiment with factions, and dailies and all that. You will see that experiment continue in 5.2, and we are kind of dialling in... we are trying to find that perfect balance. I don’t think we quite found it in 5.1, but I’m still proud that there is a lot more to do with your character in Mists of Pandaria than in any of our expansions before.

There you go, that’s the long daily quests answer! [laughs]

AusGamers: [laughs] That’s good! It made me think of another thing: in 5.1, the dailies were more story-driven as well. There were a lot of big story points happening throughout as you progressed through rep. Is that something that you think worked well? Is that something you are carrying forward with?

Dave: The player response to that was great! I think people loved that you’d be doing your dailies and you’d get this little bite sized chunk of story and you had a reason to login every day. Especially once you hit revered and you got your trinket, you were getting story content every day --I thought that felt great and players really liked it. We were developing 5.1 and 5.2 at the same time, so we weren’t able to do that exact formula for 5.2, however in 5.2 (again we’re always experimenting), the big moments are more tied to the actual server progression on the island. So as your server unlocks a new chunk of the island it will open up a new solo scenario for you.

And the solo scenario is heavy on the content so you’ll get to really see your faction taking over another part of the island and what’s happening there. So those should happen every few days, to give you that little blast of story content, so it’ll be fun to login every day and see how far your faction is along.

So yeah, we’re always looking for ways of weaving the story into the gameplay content that you’re doing, and 5.1 seemed to work really well. I liked how 5.1 played out and we’re going to carry that lesson forward in the future.

AusGamers: So the way the island progresses, is it a server wide thing that your whole server works on, and not a personal phased thing like the Molten Front was?

Dave: That's right, it is a server progression. So the closest we’ve come to it is the Isle of Quel’Danas --if you were playing back in the Burning Crusade days. Its faction based, so on your individual server the Alliance might have progressed further than the horde at any given time, or vice versa, and we’re very aware that servers have different populations and that even within an individual server the faction populations could be wildly skewed.

So when we figured out how the progression would work, we really based it on participation. So if your faction is outnumbered on the server --and many people play on servers where this is the case-- you don’t have to sweat it. If your faction is much more dedicated and more of your faction is doing quests every day (a larger portion than the other faction), you’ll actually progress faster. So there’s that built in.

AusGamers: Cool. So just on story again, and this may just be a personal opinion of mine, but it it felt like, especially throughout 5.1, there seemed to be a lot more going on within the Horde, with factions feuding against each other and Vol’jin getting betrayed. It didn’t quite feel like the Alliance had as many big story hooks, or have a character that is being built up the same way Lor’themar has been for the Horde. I was just wondering if there was plans to do something similar with the Draenai for the Alliance or push the Alliance story forward a bit?

Dave: Ah, well, what we’ve been trying to depict is as the Horde is fraying apart, the Alliance is binding closer together, and we’ll demonstrate some of that in 5.3. And certainly, players were familiar with Jaina already, but we really wanted to catch up with her story, so we spent a lot of time on Jaina in 5.1. She’s not a new character in the same way as Lor’themar... I mean we hadn’t done anything with Lor’themar before so it was kind of fun to see him step into the spotlight a bit.

But I think from the Alliance side, Jaina’s attempts to keep the Kirin’tor neutral, and the betrayal that she feels, and her response as she makes decisions about Dalaran, it all then carries forward in patch 5.2 and its actually very powerful. And there's even a little bit of a hint of friction between her and King Wryyn --like they’re working together but their goals aren’t quite in sync; we show a little bit of that there. It might be sexier to see the Horde completely falling apart as their Warchief spirals closer and closer to complete egomania, but I think there's a lot going on with the Alliance, and I hope players are seeing it and hopefully we can keep that momentum going in 5.3.

AusGamers: With the new tier of raiding, there's 12 bosses in the new tier (well 13 if you count the optional one). That’s a pretty big raid tier, and 5.0 had probably the biggest raiding tier that you’ve had. I was wondering if bigger raid tiers are something that works better for the game and is something you’d like to keep doing, is that the direction the game will be heading in, in the future? Or is it more something that is just decided on a case-by-case basis?

Dave: That is an awesome question! So raid tiers, there's a minimum size --just in order to have enough loot dropped to be worth a tier there has to be a minimum raid tier size. I think that’s around about 8 bosses or so; I think that's right about where we figured that out to be. But the player response has always been better to bigger raid tiers --they just enjoy having more bosses. So 12 is a pretty good number, that gives us a lot of options. More than the minimum, but still a lot, but not so many that we don’t have time to make all the encounters interesting. So we have 12 really meaty encounters in this raid.

One thing we’re going to keep experimenting with is: do we do linear raid progression or branch it out so that you have a lot of options? This 5.2 raid, its completely linear --you have to start at the first boss and fight your way to the last boss. We’ll see how that works. Hopefully there's not one boss that players get really stuck on that we have to do a lot of tweaking on, but it’ll be interesting to see how players go through that.

I can’t say that there's a hard and fast rule that we’re always going to have raid tiers this big, but we definitely know that players seem to like bigger raids better than smaller ones.

AusGamers: Sort of related to that, how hard is it going to be for a fresh 90 who wants to come in and try the Throne of Thunder raid, but he has to work his way up through the other raids to get geared first? Is there a danger that that could just completely overwhelm or turn off a new player, and if so: how do you deal with that, or minimise that sort of risk?

Dave: I think players are going to be in good shape. We have a lot more tools now to allow players to catch up; raid finder especially. A lot more loot is going to drop in the 5.0 raids after 5.2 launches, particularly in raid finder. So a new player coming into Pandaria: you hit max-level, do the dungeons to get your 463 gear --and that's not too bad, those dungeons are still really active-- and then a few raid finder runs should kind of get you set up with enough gear that will at least get you into the basic 5.2 raids.

So we think there's still catch-up mechanics in place. We’ll keep an eye on it though, I mean we kind of want to make sure there's no wall that players can get stuck behind if they’re trying to gear up. Its important to us; its important to make sure you’re never shut out of the content completely.

AusGamers: There hasn’t been any new five-man instances added since launch, and in the past you have added five-mans throughout an expansion. I was just wondering if ‘scenarios’ fill that niche now and tell the stories you used to tell by adding a five-man instance, and if scenarios have lived up the expectations you had for them and how you feel that system is playing out?

Dave: That's a good question; there’s like three questions in there!

AusGamers: [Laughs] Yeah, sorry about that.

Dave: So lets see, lets talk about the role of dungeons. In the past we’ve used five-man dungeons as catch-up. Like in patch 3.3, we had some dungeons where you could get some nice gear for fighting the Lich king, and those dungeons also told a story. Now that we have raid finder, we think that raid finder is a pretty good catch-up mechanic. Not only do you get to see the awesome raid content, but you get to gear up pretty quickly, so we think there’s less of a need for five-man dungeons, particularly for catching up.

As for scenarios: scenarios are a good story-telling mechanic; we can do some really flavourful events with scenarios so they good from that perspective. They were more meant to fill a niche of small group content, without the need of getting a tank or getting healer. Like, if I’m playing with my friend and we want to do some kind of cool group content, what can we do? Well, scenarios are pretty much an instant queue, you grab another person and you get to play through a cool kind of event.

As for your question about did scenarios live up to our expectations: we think we still have some work to do, in that some scenarios are longer and some of our dungeons have been pretty short. So sometimes a scenario run could take as long, or longer than a dungeon run, but the loot isn’t nearly as good; that's a problem. We want to make sure that there's some more interesting ways to get rewarded from a scenario, so going forward we’re going to keep tinkering with scenarios.

We’re going to have the idea of Heroic scenarios where they’re a little more challenging if you want to set up a group of three people. And have the idea of challenges within the scenarios, like if you complete it within a certain time you get better loot or a better chance at loot. And really balancing the rewards of scenarios versus the time spent doing dungeons.

So we think scenarios have still got a ways to go still, and you’re going to see a lot of changes in 5.3 and 5.4. We’re planning on doing some more scenarios in 5.3 that will help tell the story, as well as some of those having the possibility of better loot. So yeah, we aren’t quite there yet; we’re still tinkering with that. But they certainly weren’t meant to replace the role of five-man dungeons, I think raid finder helped replace a lot of that.

AusGamers: Ok, cool. So there's a warlock-specific quest chain in 5.2 to get green fire for their spell effects...

Dave: Yeah!

AusGamers: It sounds pretty epic! I was just wondering if something like that takes a lot of work to do? And how do you balance it, considering the return you’re going to get from it, when only a small portion of the player base is ever going to get to do it? Is that something that you want to do more of for other classes, or is it just a tricky thing to balance?

Dave: I’m glad you asked the question that way! Most people say it like” “Hey, warlocks are getting stuff? Give us stuff for everybody else! [Laughs]

And you actually bring out all the issues. I mean yeah, that was a lot of work, that Warlock scenario; it has a custom solo-scenario built into it. That whole quest line was a lot of work! There was a lot of effort spent on Warlock-exclusive content. So I always tell the story: one of our responsibilities is trying to schedule what everybody is going to be working on for the expansion, and originally there was a draft of the 5.0 expansion-schedule where we tried to squeeze in really awesome solo scenarios and quest-lines for all the different classes that were as good as the Warlock quest line.

And if you tally up all that time, among all the classes, its basically like a whole zone’s worth of content. So the question was, do we cut Townlong Steppes so that everyone can play some class content for a couple of hours? Or do we keep a zone in the game that everyone can play. And so basically it’s a huge cost, as you said when you asked the question, there's a huge cost to it.

I think what we’ll be doing going forward... I mean we love class specific content because it lets us do really cool mechanics, like the rogue legendary in 4.3. I absolutely loved it because you got to feel so much like a rogue, you got to absolutely fulfil the fantasy of being a rogue --we love that kind of content. It is high-cost to build though, so I think we’ll pick and choose moments. We picked Warlock this time because in 5.0 the Warlock class got a whole bunch of new toys, so we felt we could celebrate that, as the class felt almost new.

And also, there wasn’t any other Warlock content --the Pandaren don’t have Warlocks, and there's no Warlocks in Pandaria. You’re really kind of on your own out there, so we felt it would be important to give them a little something that felt very Warlock-y. And hey, green fire, they should have had green fire from the beginning, green fire is awesome! [laughs]

AusGamers: [laughs] Very true, I can’t argue with that!

Dave: Yeah, we might see more class content in the future, but I certainly don’t want to guarantee it.

AusGamers: What sort of content do you have on offer... I think you mentioned it a bit earlier with the summoning bosses stuff, but just for the people who are really into hunting rares, collecting mounts and doing that sort of stuff. There's another zone isn’t there, the Isle of Giants? Is that aimed at those sorts of players?

Dave: It is! Boy, if you’re into collecting hunter pets we’ve so many in this one. But lets talk about the Isle of the Thunder King first. It’s absolutely loaded up with summonable bosses (that take a five-man team to take down), and rare spawns all over the island which have some nasty mechanics. So it’ll take either a small group or a REALLY clever player to beat the rares on the island. There’s a whole lot of that; there’s a whole lot of rare things to collect from those bosses; there are keys that drop... did we talk about the treasure room yet?

AusGamers: Only briefly in passing...

Dave: Only briefly yeah, its like a five-minute timed run inside the treasure vaults of the Thunder King, that you can get from rare keys that drop on the island. So there’s that going on. Then you also brought up the Isle of Giants, which I think is a great chunk of content that we’re going to be playing with. Its an island filled with dinosaurs; everything's elite; it’s a monstrous island; you’ll really want a large group to tackle the island.

So it’s kind of large-group content that you can do. You can collect dinosaur bones; there's some rare mounts and things you can get. If you’re a hunter then you have to go to the Isle of Giants to get the manual that teaches you how to tame dinosaurs, and then you can tame these dinosaurs. But yeah, tough, tough fights, really cool group content; a lot of things for players to find and discover. I think people will be exploring both of these islands for many, many weeks.

AusGamers: I guess I might be in the minority, but what I really loved, and one of the first things I did when I hit 90, was all the Lorewalkers stuff...

Dave: Cool!

AusGamers: Yeah, just going around, reading all the scrolls and all that, I really loved all that stuff. I was just wondering if there was any plans to expand on that for story-buffs like me? If there's more stuff going to happen with the Lorewalkers faction, or if you’re going to find new ways to inject the lore into the game like that?

Dave: I’m glad you asked! Because you’ll be delighted to discover in 5.2, on the Isle of the Thunder King, there's a lot more Lorewalker objects on there. So you can learn the backstory of the Thunder King himself, as well as the origins of the Mogu and what the Zandalari have been up to since the Cataclysm. So there's a lot to collect on the island, if you explore the island. Those objects were a way... we wanted them to reward exploration in the game, and so we try and place them in places you’ll discover as you play instead of just using a web guide (although most players just look at the guide).

But also a really kind of fun way of injecting story into the game for the people who care about it, without it getting in the way for the people who don’t care about it. I’m glad you say you liked it. We have an absolutely tremendous voice actor. Jim Cummings does the voice of Lorewalker Cho, and is just a marvellous natural storyteller. So we really put him front and centre and built him a whole stage where he can tell these stories, and we’re putting more of them in 5.2.

I think its a really fun way to interact with the lore of the game, and I think you learn a lot more about the Pandaren and all the races in Pandaria. I love it, and I think that's a lesson we’re probably going to carry forward into the next expansion as well because its been pretty popular with players. I’m glad you liked them!

AusGamers: Yeah, I loved it! I loved the little storytime plays that played everything out, I just ate that up.

Dave: Yeah, because it’s kind of positioned in the game as bonus content. A lot of players that you wouldn’t think would be interested in story actually got kind of sucked in. They maybe collected it for the achievement, or the mount, and then actually thought the stories were pretty cool. Its fun, it was a reward you know, and I think it worked out great.

AusGamers: Just one last little quick thing, if you had to pick a feature or a piece of content you’re most excited about, what would it be in 5.2?

Dave: Yeah we’ve talked about this already, but what most excites me is that there’s a lot to do on the island that’s not just daily quests and not just the raid. There’s all this other content you can discover, that just kind of happens around you. You’ll be trying to do your dailies, and then your friends will start summoning a boss and need your help, so you go summon a boss, and then you’ll see a treasure chest stuck in a weird place that you try and jump to, and “Oh look there's a rare spawn over here, let’s see if we can get it”.

Then at the same time, PvP might be happening around the island, if players are doing the PvP quests. So just, all kind of things happen around the island --you’re constantly exposed to kind of crazy gameplay and I just think it works out great. The island is just a fun place to spend a lot of time. So that's what excites me the most: all that content that sort of falls in between the daily quests and the raid, that just sort of happens around you.

AusGamers: Awesome! well that’s pretty much all I’ve got, so thanks a lot!

Dave: Alright Warren, excellent questions, thank you so much!

Latest Comments
Posted 02:26am 09/3/13
Bit annoying theres no LFR open yet, but thats mainly cos I want to see the raid and don't have a raiding guild atm :(

The stuff on the new islands seems pretty cool though, even just roaming around going on dinosaur safari on the isle of giants was more enjoyable than I was expecting.
Posted 02:41am 09/3/13
Some have suggested that you should hit the Isle of Giants, mute the music and put on the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I might give that a go. :)

But till then, I'll be over here, hitting my head against the wall trying to beat the Warlock Green Fire quest boss. Around 50 wipes and rising... :/
Posted 10:11am 09/3/13
new raid is good so far, some decent unique mechanics
trash is... interesting
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