Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part III

The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part I
The Ghostcrawler Legacy, Part II

Continuing on, here are more system changes that occurred during Ghostcrawler's tenure.

4. Tanks move from threat to active mitigation.

In Vanilla, a tank would gear for survival, but her basic gameplay would focus on generating threat. The tank essentially limited how much dps the damage dealers could put out. A good tank allowed the dps to go full bore. A poor tank throttled her dps players.

However, because the tank always geared for survival, a lot of tanks felt like they were fighting themselves. With the introduction of Vengeance, threat became less and less of an issue. Tank gameplay has shifted to "active mitigation" where the tank has more control over how much damage she takes. The tank takes generating sufficient threat for granted. Ironically, now that the focus is on active mitigation, many tanks now prefer dps stats on their armor.

Unlike a lot of the other changes, I am not certain that this was a good change. Threat linked the tank and the dps in a party. They had to be aware of each other, and interact with each other. I am not sure that "isolating" tanks from the rest of the party in this manner has been good for the game. I play a couple of other MMOs which are still threat-based (TOR and FFXIV), and I do think the basic group gameplay skeleton in those games is stronger than the current group dynamic in WoW, especially in small group dungeons. Using crowd control and focus fire is much more fun than simply AoEing everything down because the tank has infinite threat on all the mobs.

(Not to mention the beautiful tension between threat and mitigation that a tank finds in a game like TERA.)

As well, if the change was to make tanking more attractive to the general populace, well, I think it has failed on that level too.

5. Replacing talent trees with exclusive choices.

I'm not really sure if this idea originated from the WoW team, or if Blizzard as a whole came to a consensus. But pretty much across all their games, talent trees were replaced with a series of exclusive choices.

I think this is a stronger model for making interesting builds, especially at endgame. WoW does have some issues because the choices have to serve for all three specializations.

However, talent trees were a bit more interesting while leveling. There was a sense of being able to "build" your character which is missing in the current leveling game.

6. The gradual elimination of restrictions.

In my mind, this is the greatest weakness of Ghostcrawler as a designer. (Though I rather imagine that a lot of the players will disagree with me on this.) I do not think Ghostcrawler had a proper appreciation of restrictions, or he was unable to communicate the necessity of restrictions to the player base.

In a lot of ways, what you cannot do is more important that what you can do.

To take a simple example, for years paladins could not attack from range. You had to spec deep into the Holy tree to even get one range attack. This restriction made playing a paladin a fundamentally different experience than playing any other class. You had to learn about body-pulls. You coveted Linken's Boomerang.

There were things like this for every class. Hunters used to have a "dead zone" where they could not attack someone who was 5-8 yards away from them. Then the dead zone was removed, and an expansion later the close range restriction removed entirely.

Casters used to have a lot of trouble casting while moving. Then they got more and more instants and abilities to allow them to cast while moving. Healers got more and more AoE healing tools.

Restrictions chafe players. Players petition hard to have those restrictions removed. In my mind, one of the key jobs of a dev team is stand fast against this tendency, and stick with restrictions in the face of player opposition. Restrictions lead to interesting gameplay, and watering down these restrictions is not good for the long term health of the game.

In my view, this was the greatest failing of Ghostcrawler. He was unable or unwilling to insist upon the necessary restrictions on the players, and the gameplay in WoW did suffer for that.

Again, I am sure that a lot of players will disagree with me on this. Indeed if you look at any single restriction in isolation, I'm sure that an excellent case can be built for removing it. But I do not think the cumulative effect of removing all these restrictions has been good for the game.


By and large, Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street did an excellent job with WoW. I disagree with some of the changes made during his tenure, but I also heartily agree with others. As well, he set a new standard for communicating with the players, which was greatly appreciated.

I look forward to seeing his next game or project.


  1. I do wonder how responsible GC is for the Biggest failing in WoW. The Cataclysm expansion.

    This funneled the majority of the Dev effort into the 1-60 leveling content, leaving an expansion bereft of content.

    And the raid changes which destroyed casual raiding. Wrath raiding was a system that worked well.

    Compare this to WoD. No new classes or races, so not even 1-10 leveling content - focusing it all into the 90-100 experience.

    And Raiding. Gone of the days when Blizzard promised you wouldn't kill the same boss twice. In WoD we've now back to 4 raid lock-outs! The system is basically Wrath 2.0, with the advantages of Flex and LFR.

  2. I do think you go overboard in the restrictions department. Coveting Linking's Boomerang is bordering on silly, and paladin shield-throwing ability is the best of the pull abilities in the game. Warrior tanking felt very impaired before Wrath, until charge in combat, silencing Heroic Throw and Shockwave made it very satisfying experience.

  3. I'm a big fan of active mitigation. Not only it maintains party interaction (with healers) but it provides a different type of gameplay. Threat tanking is what bear Druid used to call their gameplay, I.e. "Dpsing from the front".

  4. I think the tanking/simplification issues stem largely from The Death Knight class. DKs at the start of WotLK were complex and extremely strong. You could 5 man with only DKS.

    The downside was that everyone and their mother wanted to play a class that had a rather complex rotation for best play. The 3 button hunter trying to play a DK barely made it out alive.

    Where the original design decisions on that class were of the BC era, by the end of LK, it was the poster child for "new ideas". Active mitigation started there. Homogenization. Stat simplification. Talent specs vs builds (presences are a clear precursor above and beyond Druid forms).

    All to say I agree with the points listed. GC changed the way devs communicate with players. They made MMOS extremely accessible. But along the way, they lost a lot of what made them interesting in the first place.

  5. I know you mention it in post number 1, but Ghostcrawler wasn't necessarily involved in many of the things you've mentioned here. He was in Systems, so LFR, LFD, Flex, those kinds of things were what he was working on.

    Yeah, he championed class balance, and a bunch of other things, but he was effectively the front-man of the group so to speak. Gwen Stefani was the "front-man" of No Doubt, but she didn't write all the songs, and she was the vocalist, she didn't play most of the instruments. Just as someone in the management chain may have to champion the team vision, it's not really his job to implement and make all of the changes in the game.

    I honestly wouldn't expect much to change with Ghostcrawler's leaving, since the team itself is largely the same. Talking about things that happened during his tenure isn't really a good equivalence. Though, I do rather enjoy the greater communication we see from the devs now because of him, and that is something I think we can attribute to him directly.

  6. One point needs to be mentioned is that in TOR, there are no add-ons. WoW, with it's third party add-ons, allowed players to fine tune their DPS threat management, whereas in TOR you have to go by feel. Considering that I leveled initially in WoW without third party add-ons, I learned to do this the hard way, but a lot of people used to WoW will have a harder time with some of these add-on-less MMOs will have more difficulty for that reason alone.

    As for the lack of talent trees in Blizzard products, that makes it that much easier for Blizzard to allow you to simply skip 90% of the game and jump right to the next expac. After all, it's a helluva lot easier to make 6 selections rather than 45, particularly if you can tweak them at any time for endgame and/or PvP.

  7. "The tank essentially limited how much dps the damage dealers could put out. A good tank allowed the dps to go full bore. A poor tank throttled her dps players."

    I think you left out the big reason vengeance was introduced: gear disparities. Even great tanks couldn't hold aggro against DPS who were a tier or two above them, this was especially a problem in 5 mans. Now with how powerful legendary cloaks are, I don't know how an under geared tank could hold aggro in LFR without vengeance.

  8. Great posts on GC, in particular your thoughts on restrictions resonated with me. Best of luck in whatever it is you've chosen to pursue outside of gaming!