As a part of our post mortem series on Cataclysm, we sat down with World of Warcraft Lead Encounter Designer Scott “Daelo” Mercer to hear his thoughts on Cataclysm dungeons and raids.
Q. What were your main goals going into Cataclysm?
We really wanted to make sure we were creating new challenges, strong mechanics, and cool creatures while staying true to the expansion and the themes we wanted to carry out. The three raid dungeons came out well and we had a lot of fun bringing the story of Nefarian and the Twilight’s Hammer to life. We were also able to add some dynamic mechanics in Throne of the Four Winds, which featured players moving across multiple platforms.
Q. How did this evolve over the various content patches?
Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman were entertaining raids with diverse mechanics, and they translated well when we converted them into Heroic dungeons for patch 4.1. Interesting mechanics and features that once were restricted to raids are now finding their way into our five-player dungeons.
Adding the Dungeon Journal in patch 4.2 was also a major step forward. We wanted to be able to share more information in the game so that players wouldn’t feel the need to go look everything up on external websites. While those sites are great at what they do, we felt like we needed to try to alleviate the need to go out of the game to find the information players wanted to see.
The addition of Raid Finder in patch 4.3 also opened up more opportunities for players to be able to experience our raid content. The feature has proven to be extremely popular, and not just with people who had given up on raiding. Many players use Raid Finder to gear up their secondary characters, gain Valor for the week, or just because it’s fun.
Q. What do you think worked best?
We’ve been reasonably successful with our tuning across all four raid difficulty modes. There were a few warts here and there, but we delivered on the idea that 10-player and 25-player raids could exist at a similar difficulty. We also had some memorable dungeons and cinematic moments in Cataclysm. I’m particularly fond of the interactive bombing run in Grim Batol involving the red drakes. Players really got a sense of the epic scale of Grim Batol, and how well they performed in the event could make clearing the rest of the dungeon much easier.
With our improved tools and the experience we’ve gained over the years, we’ve become better at finding ways to explain the mechanics of our encounters. Our bosses do a better job of warning players of incoming threats. In Dragon Soul we also began to better inform players of mechanics that caused them to die. Providing a better understanding of the encounters to players is an important goal. We feel that losing to a boss and not understanding why is frustrating, just as beating a boss and not understanding why you won is not as satisfying.
Q. What didn’t work out as planned or expected?
Initially, we started off the Heroic dungeons at too high of a difficulty. The difficulty level rather abruptly changed when compared to the Heroics players experienced at the end of Wrath of the Lich King. This major change caught many players off guard, and frustrated some of them. The difficulty also increased the effective amount of time required to complete a dungeon to a longer experience than we wanted. With the release of patch 4.3 we’re now in a much better place. We’ve always talked about being able to complete a dungeon over lunch, and the Hour of Twilight dungeons get us back to that goal. End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight all provide epic play experiences to our players, but at the real sweet spot of difficulty, complexity, and time commitment.
Q. Was there anything that surprised you about how players reacted to a particular encounter?
Not particularly. Something we’ve learned over the years is to expect the unexpected. The community is very creative and intelligent. The most important thing for us is that players are having fun. They often find interesting ways of approaching things that maybe we didn’t expect, but as long the creative solution is still fun for everyone, we usually don’t have a problem with it.
Q. What have you learned from Cataclysm and what are some of your top goals for Mists of Pandaria?
We learned we could create a crazy encounter like the Spine of Deathwing. It took a lot of hard work from the whole team and it was a difficult design challenge to tackle. How do you orchestrate a fight on the back of a gigantic flying dragon without inducing nausea? How do we make sure you feel like you’re on Deathwing? Delivering that experience was really important and everyone wanted the opportunity to work on it. What was really great was that we launched the story of Cataclysm with the cinematic that showed Deathwing having his elementium plates being put on, then we end the expansion with those very same plates being torn off. It gives some real closure to storyline.
For Mists of Pandaria, we will continue to provide new dungeons and raids while also presenting interesting new types of content in the form of challenge modes and scenarios. Players will also be introduced to new enemies in the Sha, Mogu, and Mantids. Making those creatures come to life will be a lot of fun.
Q. Do you have a favorite dungeon or encounter from Cataclysm?
There are so many. The Conclave of Wind was a great one. Working out interesting mechanics that allowed players to go from platform to platform was a lot of fun and the environment felt really epic. A fight like that was a goal of the encounter team for a very long time.
Blackwing Descent was another favorite and working out the mechanics for the Atramedes fight gave us a lot to think about. How do you create an encounter with a blind dragon that fights? So we gave him sonar and showed the interaction with a sound meter on the player’s UI.
Q. Is there a certain mechanic that you always wanted to do but couldn’t do prior to Cataclysm?
Not really. There are so many cool ideas to work with that I never feel held back. It’s easy to be creatively inspired by the people around you and their energy. It’s never a problem of coming up with ideas. It’s usually deciding which ones we want to go with next, but the possibilities are endless.
Q. Do you have a “dream” dungeon or encounter that you’d like to create if you had the opportunity?
I’ve never felt that I haven’t been able to do the things I want to do. Everyone on the team is completely dedicated to giving us unlimited opportunities to make epic and awesome experiences. But, if I have to mention something, it would be huge giant death robots. We had Mimiron in Ulduar, but you just can’t have too many death robots.
Q. Thank you for your time, Scott.