Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part II

In Part I, we looked at Ghostcrawler's interaction with the community. In this section we will look at Ghostcrawler's influence on the rules, how the rules of WoW changed when he was in charge. Now, Ghostcrawler isn't solely responsible for these changes, they were the work of the entire dev team. But he's the man with the title and the face, so he gets the responsibility.

I'm going to break this down into areas of major change and look at each separately.

1. Bring the player, not the class.

If there is any phrase Ghostcrawler will be remembered for--other than "Nerf Ret paladins. TO THE GROUND!"--it will be "bring the player, not the class". The basic idea is that a decent player could play any spec of any class that she found in group content and not be a total liability. She would not be forced into a specific spec at endgame.  For the most part, save the very edge of content (and even here it is much better than it was in the past), this has come true. Pretty much every spec is viable.

Perhaps it is difficult for newer players to understand what an enormous change this is. I have been a paladin since Vanilla. Back in Vanilla, there was only one choice for endgame paladins: you healed. Didn't matter what spec (and for some reason Kings was in the Ret tree), you couldn't tank or deal damage. Your job was to heal. And most of the time you didn't even wear plate. If you look back at the history of the blog, the first three years are railing at this restriction, and eventually coming to terms with it.

Now, paladins can tank if they want, or hit things with a giant two-handed hammer if they prefer. I still heal, but I choose to heal, and am not forced to heal. For this alone, I will always count "bring the player, not the class" to be huge success.

If you look at any modern MMO where classes can play multiple roles, there is an unstated assumption that the devs will at least try to make each role viable. I hold Ghostcrawler responsible for this change of attitude in the MMO industry.

Now, there are concerns with this idea. This, in conjunction with smaller raid sizes, has led to some homogenization among classes. Classes can no longer be as unique as they once were, for fear that those classes will not be present in the raid.

2. All specs and classes have an interesting rotation.

The paladin rotation in Vanilla was ... unique. You put up a Seal, cast Judgement to start the fight and recast another Seal. Then 30 seconds later, if the mob hadn't died to your auto-attacks, you could cast Judgement and re-Seal again. Other classes were all over the map. Some were crazy complex, others were very simple. I remember the days where the optimum Warlock rotation was to sacrifice your Demon and spam Shadow Bolt.

All modern specs have a rotation of at least moderate complexity now. Usually you use 3-5 spells, and there is a proc or resource you have to account for. The rotations are different enough to give the different specializations their own feel.  Each class is at least moderately interesting to play, and not as terribly simple as paladins used to be.

For the most part, this has been a good change. The only concern I would have is that sometimes it feels that each specialization is "too" unique. For example, did Destruction warlocks really need a second nuke in Incinerate? I have always thought that Shadow Bolt was good enough.

3. Current tier instead of progression.

Vanilla was built on the idea of progression. No matter when your guild was formed, you started in Molten Core, and moved up raid by raid. The problem with this was that often guilds got stuck on bosses and couldn't move on. Only a small minority of raiders saw all the content.

Starting in Wrath, WoW essentially moved to a "current tier" model. The raid that was released most recently was the tier that everyone did. Each raid was available in multiple difficulties, allowing groups of different ability levels to see the entire raid. As well, buffs or nerfs would often occur to keep groups from getting stuck.

I think in a lot of ways this is the most controversial of the changes during Ghostcrawler's tenure. Progression "feels right" in a way that is somewhat hard to articulate. There is this sense of "being on the path" that no longer exists in WoW. Right now, I'm playing FFXIV, which has a progression-style endgame. It feels "right" to be moving up slowly through the content, that each challenge is similar in difficulty to how it was at release.

But the truth is that it feels "right" up until the point where you get stuck. My first serious raiding guild shattered on Lady Vashj, and I've never forgotten that. The current endgame promises guilds that they can stick together. It promises that you don't have to make the choice between playing with friends or seeing content. In Vanilla/TBC, this was a very real and present concern for players.

To Be Continued

There are other changes that happened during Ghostcrawler's tenure. I also want to talk about what I think was his biggest failing or weakness in terms of rules systems. Hopefully this post won't take me another couple of weeks.


  1. Priests were dwarves in the Alliance. Period. If you weren't a dwarf, you were doin it rong, because Fear Ward.

    And then it was FW, spam Heal 2 until FW came off cooldown, repeat.

  2. I never really counted the "all specs are even remotely viable" as part of ghostcrawlers "bring the player not the class"-paradigm. That seems to be just plain balancing. The "bring the player not the class" seems to me to have been purely about the homogenisation. So you didnt have to include a lock for curse of elements, a paladin for kings, a shaman for manatide, etc.

    The first part about simple balancing seems to be a seperate issue. You can easily (cough) balance so all specs are viable by themselves... Without giving them all the same buffs/debuffs/abilities. The problem ghostcrawlers "bring the player not the class"-paradigm sought to fix was that for cutting edge raiding you could be forced to bring a specific combination of classes to have all debuffs/buffs

  3. I would say that there were two phases to "bring the player, not the class". The first phase was allowing hybrids to perform multiple roles instead of just healing. Allowing paladins to tank, shamans to dps, etc. Removing the "tax" on hybrid dps. This is the phase I emphasized. The thing is that if you look at Vanilla, the hybrid classes were designed to do one role at endgame. Warriors tanked, the paladins/shamans/druids healed.

    Rejecting that design philosophy was just as important (if not more important) as the buff/debuff changes.

    The second phase was the streamlining of the buff/debuff system. In my opinion, this was driven almost entirely by the introduction of 10-man raiding. 25-man raids still did things like require priests to Mind Control. In a 25-man raid, you could still assume that there would be at least one of each class.

  4. The hybrid tax was removed. But no equivalent return was given to specialized classes that the hybrid classes can now equal. For instance a paladin can DPS as well as a rogue, but he can also tank or heal. Where are the rogue's tanking and healing specs?

  5. @Dacheng

    Yes a Paladin can fill any role in theory, but they can't do any role on the fly, so the potential is a moot point inside of an individual fight. If you wanted your Feral Druid to heal, you'd need to wipe, let him respec, swap gear then try again.

    If you wanted your rogue to heal, he'd need to swap to an alt, which is more work, but a huge amount more. And the players who are good enough at multiple roles to swap out that way probably have alts, or alt spec gear anyways.

    The Hybrid tax was bad bad bad design.

  6. So it's good design to prevent rogues (and all the other specialist classes) from being unable to fulfill the same role as a hybrid class? Your only solution, Dathi, is "shudda rolled a paladin. Better roll one now"?

    The original idea of the hybrid tax was that you got a more versatile class, but couldn't perform as well as a specialist. You were a jack of all trades and master of none. That was not a good design, but the solution - now you are master of all trades - is not good design either. It puts the specialists at a disadvantage now.

    Who would roll a mage or a rogue nowadays in preference to a druid or a paladin?

  7. I dislike that all rotations have been made complex. I like simplicity.

    Perhaps this should have been the replacement for the hybrid tax: the rotation of the dps specs of hybrid classes could have been made more complex. Pure dps classes would be given at least one spec with a simple rotation.

  8. "Current tier" model may have destroyed the guilds, stripping them of "keyholder to the content" status. You only had to join raiding guild to raid current content. In progression model, you had to join Sunwell guild if you wanted to see Sunwell.

    LFR was a coup-de-grace. Now you don't have to be in a guild at all to see raid content. As most people don't care about raid being "heroic" or not, just wanting to see the raid a few times, guilds are almost extinct. If there weren't guild perks, WoW would be a massive guild graveyard by now.