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Old 02-28-2012, 12:32 PM
Leviathon Leviathon is offline

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Default Cataclysm Post-Mortem - Quest Design P1

Seems Blizzard is starting a series where they look back at what they did in Cataclysm and what they feel they need to improve and what they did right. Part 1 is about questing design.

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/4488899

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To kick-off our World of Warcraft: Cataclysm post mortem series, we sat down with World of Warcraft Lead Quest Designer Dave “Fargo” Kosak to discuss his thoughts on questing in Cataclysm.

Q: What were your main goals going into Cataclysm?
Certainly from a quest design standpoint our primary goal with Cataclysm was to remake the old world, specifically the 1-60 questing experience. World of Warcraft was released in 2004, and we've learned so much in the years since about what constitutes good MMO gameplay. We wanted to make sure that the game was relevant to new players coming in, and walking up and down the length of the Barrens on foot over and over just didn’t do it for us anymore.

Remaking the entire old world -- 46 zones! -- was ambitious. Actually, it was ludicrous. It was like re-releasing a whole game in the course of an expansion cycle. Then we added a couple new races and their starting zones on top of that. I’m not sure how we convinced ourselves we could make it happen, but somehow we pulled it together.

Q: Are you happy with how the old world re-vamp turned out?
I am. Leveling up a new character to 60 nowadays is a great deal of fun. Every zone has stories to play out, with interesting nooks and crannies and plenty of hidden gems or references for players who remember the pre-Cataclysm world. Zones like Ashenvale now live up to their premise (intense Horde-vs.-Alliance combat), and previously empty zones now have a lot of character (see: Azshara). The content just flows. It's still World of Warcraft, but the quests have a modern feel, with lots of action and storytelling.

Q: But what didn't work out so well?
We really spread ourselves thin and taxed the team. The original plan was to totally re-do a handful of high-priority zones, but to leave a lot of the zones that worked mostly alone. We categorized them into "red," "yellow," and "green" zones. The idea behind the green zones (for example, Loch Modan) was just to tweak the quest flow to be a little smoother, but not to make any major changes.

The reality is that even the green zones really needed a lot of love. Once we got in there, it was all or nothing: we ended up completely re-doing a lot of green zones so that they met our new quest design standards. We came up with a nickname: "watermelon" zones. They were green on the outside, until you got in there and started poking around. . . .

Where that hurt us was when it came time to do the max-level content, the 80-85 zones. The content there turned out well, but the experience is inconsistent across the board -- Uldum feels totally different from Hyjal, which in turn feels different from Vashj'ir. The design decisions and efforts we made didn't always yield the desired results.

Q: Tell us more about the level 80-85 zones -- what worked and didn’t?
We were aiming for a really global feel with Cataclysm, so we set the max-level zones in varied environments all over the world (underwater, across deserts, in the elemental plane of earth, etc). However, as a result, they ended up not feeling as connected as we'd like. You get widely different experiences in zones that aren’t geographically related to one another. That's something important that we're keeping in mind moving forward – World of Warcraft works best when there's a sense of place. A connected world to explore.

We feel the storytelling in Cataclysm was strong. Whether assembling the ancients in Hyjal, rescuing your drowned crew in Vashj'ir, or reassembling the world pillar in Deepholm, there’s a strong sense of plot in every zone. Players participated in stirring stories, like bringing the Dragonmaw into the Horde via a violent coup or reuniting the Wildhammer Dwarves with a crazy wedding. These were memorable moments and shared experiences.

The downside to creating these stories is that the zones on the whole ended up being way too linear. For example, because we wanted to show your character re-growing the burning devastation of Mount Hyjal, there was really only one way to play that zone: you started at point A, and you worked your way through to point Z. Pretty glorious the first time, but frustrating on your second or third character because there's only one way to do it, and no way to skip around. That's a lesson we’re going to carry forward for sure. We want big sweeping stories, but we want to give players the freedom to explore those stories on their own terms.


Q: Places like Hyjal also used a lot of phasing to show the world changing.
We have a massive phase shift halfway through the story that changes the terrain for nearly a third of the zone. It's epic, right? But it can be a real pain for players when so much of the world changes like that. Phasing is like a story sledgehammer: it gets the job done, but at best it splits up players and at worst it totally confuses them.

We're going to be a lot more careful going forward. The Firelands dailies in patch 4.2 gives you a much better idea of our future direction. There were sweeping visual changes to the world as you progressed, but there’s very little actual phasing. For the most part, everyone is playing together on the same map. That’s important to us. Looking ahead, we’re going to be a lot smarter about how we show changes to the world, and we’re going to do everything we can to avoid splitting players up.


Q: Talk more about the 4.2 patch. Were the Firelands dailies a hint of what’s to come?
Definitely. With those dailies we were able to engage a lot of players, myself included. (I was the first quest designer on the team to get the mount and all the achievements on the live servers -- suck it up, slackers!) Previously, "doing dailies" meant hitting the same quest givers for the same three quests, usually in a static place. Here we were able to deliver a sense of progression and a story that unfurled over the course of a few weeks, all as you did a constantly changing set of quest objectives in a dynamic environment. We think that worked out well.

Moving forward, we're going to look for more opportunities like this -- ways to keep people engaged and cool things to do solo with your max-level character. We've got ambitious plans.

Q: Patch 4.2 also had the Aggra and Thrall questline, "Elemental Bonds." Did that meet your expectations? How do you feel about Thrall's character development?
That's a tricky one -- we’ve got mixed feelings. The essential story is a good one, and we really wanted to portray all the inner struggles Thrall is going through. Here’s a guy that stepped down as Warchief and had to rediscover himself as a shaman in order to save the world. And he's haunted by his decisions: he’s afraid of what’s to come, paralyzed by doubt, angry at what Garrosh did to Cairne . . . the guy's a mess. We figured out a way to show all that internal tension, and we wrapped it up in a story that demonstrates how his mate, Aggra, will literally go to the ends of the world to pull him through this. It's a powerful love story, and a story about finding one’s inner focus.



But we had to do a lot of things to make it work in the game. We needed to make a quest that 500 people could do simultaneously without getting in each other's way. We wanted a quest that players could do solo, no matter what their skill level. We didn’t know if the player was decked out in raid gear or level 85 greens, so we had to keep it simple. We somehow made all of it work under those restrictions, and we filled the screen with some killer imagery (I love the vision of Thrall immersed in the Abyssal Maw). But ultimately the quests themselves ended up not being as compelling from a gameplay perspective as we would have liked. Many players blew through them once and never looked back.

I really think we can do better. Cataclysm was in many ways Thrall’s story, but it was hard for players to follow his development over the course of the expansion. Going forward we want to convey a clearer narrative, delivered in the context of solid gameplay. We have some ideas on how to do that, and we’re also going to keep experimenting. This is important to us -- we talk about ways to tackle this problem all the time.

Q: The Cataclysm patches also saw the debut of some legendary weapons: Dragonwrath and the Fangs of the Father. Will future legendaries be this, uh, legendary?
Good question. We love class-specific content, but quest lines like those are very resource-intensive. Each sequence involves weeks of development focus that takes content away from dungeons, dailies, or outdoor zones.


The feedback from players (and from our own team) has been overwhelmingly positive. Dragonwrath proved to be extremely popular, and allowed caster classes to get a front-row seat for major lore moments otherwise reserved only for dragons. Meanwhile, Fangs of the Father was pure rogue, from the theme to the mechanics. It was super-targeted and extremely fun -- it proved to us the value of focusing in on a specific class and tailoring the content to their abilities. Given that the audience for these weapons consists of badass raiders, we didn’t hold back on the difficulty either, so these quests were great for people who wanted a real challenge.

The short answer is yes, we'll definitely continue doing these moving forward. Most likely future legendary quest lines will be built similar to the rogue experience: a couple key story moments, a lot of flavor, and some very specific challenges. But I wouldn't expect very many quest lines like these. Like legendary weapons themselves, they're going to be rare and special.


Q: We haven't even talked about goblins and worgen yet. What lessons did you take away from the new racial starting zones?
In both cases, the starting areas really sold the character and tone of the new races. The worgen area is so marvelously gothic, and Kezan is unmistakably unique and gobliny. The art and the quests all work together to establish a racial character. So that’s a big win.

As for the mechanics themselves, I’m glad we were so experimental, but our general feeling now that all is said and done is that we went a little too ‘gimmicky’ with the player’s initial experiences. Everyone can agree that the goblin experience gets pretty wild in places.

That's a big lesson we're carrying away from the expansion as a whole.

Q: Can you elaborate?
Overwhelmingly, players have told us that they want more quests where you have to flap a giant bird around a cave while targeting creatures in a 3D space.

Q: Seriously?
Maybe not . . . But moving forward, we're re-focusing on core gameplay mechanics. World of Warcraft works best when you’ve got your boots on the ground and you get to play your class. To that end, we’re concentrating on giving players lots of fun combat challenges in continually changing environments, wrapped up in a terrific story that’s propelled forward by the quests. Whenever we do special mechanics, we want them to feel special, and they’ll never tear you away from combat for very long. Our goal is to load up the world with lots of interactive spaces, cool encounters, great characters, and neat spaces to explore. That’s part of the reason we’re keeping you grounded (literally) in Pandaria, and why we’re focusing on a single continent. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk more about Pandaria soon enough.


Q: Looking forward to it. Thanks for your time!
Not a problem!

Last edited by Leviathon; 02-28-2012 at 12:54 PM..
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Old 02-28-2012, 12:59 PM
Genesis Genesis is offline

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And with that, Blizzard glosses over the severity of the post-starting zone problem for worgen.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:05 PM
Leviathon Leviathon is offline

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Yea the worgen definitely got the least amount compared to the goblins who at least got a 10-20 zone. Maybe they'll mention it in another part of the series.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:07 PM
Volkrin Volkrin is offline

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Now that you guys mention it, I'm honestly curious whether Dave Kosak is really hesitant to admit mistakes, really positive, or really clueless.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:16 PM
ScytheRexx ScytheRexx is offline

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We feel the storytelling in Cataclysm was strong. Whether assembling the ancients in Hyjal, rescuing your drowned crew in Vashj'ir, or reassembling the world pillar in Deepholm, there’s a strong sense of plot in every zone. Players participated in stirring stories, like bringing the Dragonmaw into the Horde via a violent coup or reuniting the Wildhammer Dwarves with a crazy wedding. These were memorable moments and shared experiences.

The downside to creating these stories is that the zones on the whole ended up being way too linear. For example, because we wanted to show your character re-growing the burning devastation of Mount Hyjal, there was really only one way to play that zone: you started at point A, and you worked your way through to point Z. Pretty glorious the first time, but frustrating on your second or third character because there's only one way to do it, and no way to skip around. That's a lesson we’re going to carry forward for sure. We want big sweeping stories, but we want to give players the freedom to explore those stories on their own terms.
Good, glad they totally realized the problem. This makes me a happy camper.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:23 PM
Fojar Fojar is offline

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Originally Posted by Volkrin View Post
Now that you guys mention it, I'm honestly curious whether Dave Kosak is really hesitant to admit mistakes, really positive, or really clueless.
Really clueless.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Volkrin View Post
Now that you guys mention it, I'm honestly curious whether Dave Kosak is really hesitant to admit mistakes, really positive, or really clueless.
To be fair this was part ONE. Maybe part two of the quest design postmortem will focus on the newly added races.



Or maybe Blizz has a gag order on revisiting the gilneas story.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:25 PM
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And with that, Blizzard glosses over the severity of the post-starting zone problem for worgen.
Yeah. He just mentions how great the starting zones themselves are. He apparently really likes Gilnean art, which he cited at BlizzCon 2011 as the reason they would want to go back to Gilneas...

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Now that you guys mention it, I'm honestly curious whether Dave Kosak is really hesitant to admit mistakes, really positive, or really clueless.
My feelings as well.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:28 PM
Fojar Fojar is offline

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To be fair this was part ONE. Maybe part two of the quest design postmortem will focus on the newly added races.
Part two is going to just be a picture of Kosak cosplaying as Sylvanas and yelling "For Lordaeron."
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:30 PM
Volkrin Volkrin is offline

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Part two is going to just be a picture of Kosak cosplaying as Sylvanas and yelling "For Lordaeron."
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:31 PM
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Sometimes I still don't get why people hate Kosak so much besides he is an awful photographer.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:32 PM
Fojar Fojar is offline

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You know it's coming. Then he'll be unable to figure out why Alliance players are upset about make another blog post where he says that he thinks the Alliance is interesting because they're trying to kill all of the people of Lordaeron.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:33 PM
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Cataclysm was in many ways Thrall’s story
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:36 PM
Ma Caque Attaque Ma Caque Attaque is offline

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Quote:
Now that you guys mention it, I'm honestly curious whether Dave Kosak is really hesitant to admit mistakes, really positive, or really clueless.
I would say a mix of all three. When you get so focused on something you tend to get tunnel vision and your whole worldview gets based upon that.

It's kinda like whenever J. Allen Brack gives an interview and starts talking about the worgen. I just want to tear my hair out because they way he talks about them isn't how they ended up being portrayed.

But I agree the others, especially ScytheRexx. I'm glad that they understand that 80+ isn't alt friendly, despite Blizzard pushing everyone to roll alts.

Since they decided to gloss over the post-starting zone for the worgen, I really wonder if they ever had a plan for a 10-20 zone for them, or they just felt that dropping them off in Darkshore was what they felt was better for the worgen story?
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:46 PM
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You know it's coming. Then he'll be unable to figure out why Alliance players are upset about make another blog post where he says that he thinks the Alliance is interesting because they're trying to kill all of the people of Lordaeron.
Fojar is very adamant about his opinions.

However, with Kosak's blog posts, I can start to see a bit of a problem. The humans of the Alliance, the Forsaken, and the Argent Crusade all have a claim to Lordaeron. Kosak seems to have given it to the Horde, without ever really giving the Alliance any chance to fight for it. Andorhal was the only time it really came up, without the issue of Lordaeron really coming up, and the Alliance just gives up at the end so you can go to the next zone.

Bla bla ensuing flame war...
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:52 PM
Fojar Fojar is offline

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Fojar is very adamant about his opinions.

However, with Kosak's blog posts, I can start to see a bit of a problem. The humans of the Alliance, the Forsaken, and the Argent Crusade all have a claim to Lordaeron. Kosak seems to have given it to the Horde, without ever really giving the Alliance any chance to fight for it. Andorhal was the only time it really came up, without the issue of Lordaeron really coming up, and the Alliance just gives up at the end so you can go to the next zone.

Bla bla ensuing flame war...
I don't think that I've ever made it a secret that I hate Kosak for what he did with Forsaken questing/his position on Lordaeron.

I would've even been able to chalk up Cataclysm to simple inexperience if he hadn't obviously put so much effort into the Forsaken to the detriment of everyone else.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:57 PM
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I liked The Forsaken storyline in Cataclysm....
-Gilneas invasion
-Battle for Andorhal
-Hillsbrad foothills battles
-Shadowfang storyline with Godfrey
I liked these.

What i hated about Cataclysm
The embarrassing Alliance situation in Kalimdor.They get killed left and right.Countless Theramore soldiers and Night Elves are lambs sent to slaughter.

Last edited by SmokeBlader; 02-28-2012 at 02:03 PM..
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:12 PM
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I liked The Forsaken storyline in Cataclysm....
They were fun. Too much, maybe.

They do sort of steamroll through every zone, stopping only when the current plot arc inexplicably decides to end on a cliffhanger (and it will). The Alliance keeps losing and they respond not with anger or sorrow, but with this sort of... apathy. The Forsaken just win.

Also, the Forsaken are more separate from their faction than any other race. They pave over towns and plague areas... they march in lines... Essentially, the only way to roleplay a Forsaken is to be a unfeeling and unthinking zombie Nazi loyal to Sylvanas. And the player is her one and only special minion.

No one in-game ever questions her actions (besides Garrosh, but he acts just as impotent as the Alliance), or why she does them. The Forsaken just follow her as an overpowered but overall bland force.

She even calls Gilneas Lordaeron... it is not. No one ever questions that propaganda. Same with Dalaran to some extent.
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Last edited by Revenant; 02-28-2012 at 02:15 PM..
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:39 PM
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So, to sum one major design flaw up in one sentence:

They ran out of time. (As was always expected.)
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:42 PM
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I think they're not allowed to say they did anything wrong aside from vague statements.


Which is -stupid-.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:43 PM
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Ghostcrawler's not afraid to be frank and honest about his area of the game.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:44 PM
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Lol.

That's all I have to say to this.

No, Fargo. No. You

Just no.

You are awarded zero points, and my god have mercy on your soul.

No.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:47 PM
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Slywyn makes a very compelling argument.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:53 PM
Slywyn Slywyn is offline

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Slywyn makes a very compelling argument.
And you can bite my purple ass.

He completely glossed over all the major complaints neary everyone had about the questing.

Ashenvale came out how they wanted for both sides?

Has he even -played- the Alliance side, and seen the shambles the zone is left in oce you're finished questing?

The dude's a fucking idiot, and this attitude right here that he has in the post neatly sms up why I feel they failed the Alliance this expansion.

They have no fucking clue what they're doing anymore.
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Old 02-28-2012, 02:55 PM
Leviathon Leviathon is offline

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Ashenvale questing is fine for both factions. I know you're a bit like Fojar when it comes to elves but I'm not exactly sure what you expected. This part of the Post Mortem was about questing overall more so than anything with story as it is. Hell Ashenvale was one of the better done zones in that it actually lead into its next zone perfectly.
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