Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Merinna on her first Griffon
Last week, WoW lead designer Ion Hazzikostas gave an interview in which he noted that there would be no flying in Patch 6.2, in fact, he didn't think there would be any flying in Draenor at all.  And you know what? He suspected they may never allow flying again in any future expansion pack either because the developers liked that idea so much.

The reasons stated are that "flying makes the world feel smaller and less dangerous." Which, truth be told, is entirely an accurate statement. The developers have chafed at a character's ability to simply jump on a flying mount, go kill something that needs killing, and jump on that flying mount to escape the multitudinous ground forces that might get in your way. I presume flying above it all is a way to avoid PvP entanglements on an open PvP server.

So, with those caveats in the previous paragraph clearly written out and agreed to by me, let me state unequivocally that to remove flying as an ongoing feature in the World of Warcraft would be a disgraceful, terrible idea. Removing flying from the game gives way to lazy design by the developers and is disrespectful to the players who have spent years building characters around the flight ability.

Lazy Design

Hazzikostas says that it is difficult to design around the convenience of flying. He completely ignores how successfully Blizzard has done this in the past.

Wrath of the Lich King was brilliantly designed for the use of aerial transportation. Many of the zones of that expansion had an impressive verticality that took the ability to fly as a key feature of its exploration. Do you remember the first time you flew into the Storm Peaks, all full of straight inclines and monumentally-sized Titan features? How about Icecrown Citadel, where the ground was so full of enemy Scourge that you had to fly above it to get where you needed to be?  How about the Howling Fjord, which, although a starting-level zone for Lich King, gained so much more beauty when you reached max level and could sail through the air jetties of the deep chasms and foothills.

The Storm Peaks had more vertical area than area you could walk around on.
Alright. Let's look at the Timeless Island. That place's design was predicated on the inability to fly. And they came up with a practical lore based reason for it (the temporal magic made flying dangerous) and for that particular zone, we stayed on the ground. Look at the Isle of Thunder, that we flew onto in an early scenario only to have our mounts blasted from the sky by Lei Shen, the Thunder King. All things considered, I was just fine with walking after that too.

Check out all the caves and structures we have infiltrated over the years into which one cannot fly.

The point is that if the developers really want a zone or an area that is based on ground exploration, they can come up with them. And with flying in the picture, there have been many wonderful examples of of well-designed zones and challenges that built flying into the experience.

It seems to me Hazzikostas is saying that this sort of design is hard. But what the hell, Ion? Blizzard doesn't earn all the MMO money there is by doing things the easy way. Stop your complaining and rise to that challenge!

The, ahem, high points of the zone design in Draenor that we have seen have been unexceptional. I try to spend as little time in Gorgrond and the Spires of Arak in particular because they are such an unrelenting pain to get anywhere in those places. There needs to be a word for that special sigh I make when I realize that I need to go around a mountain, through a canyon, and then find a place to cross a canyoned river just to go "Talk to X NPC" who is way the hell over on the other side of the zone. Devs say this should be fun adventure time! I conceed it was the first time I did it, but on subsequent alts, plus any reason I had for returning, the fun gave way to heavy sighs.

Arak is dotted with little platforming challenges to get at archaeology caches that are immensely irritating because of how poorly the WoW engine is at handling platform challenges. Do you remember Blackfathom Deeps, how in the early part of the instance, there was a spot where you climbed out of the water, onto some stone ramps, and then you spent a happy 5 minutes waiting for your whole party to successfully jump over that hidden gap in the ramp? Besides being hidden, if your game was experiencing any lag, timing the jump was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. So, you'd fall down, often into a pack of mobs, have to swim around and try, try again. That brilliant experience has been codified because the devs thought we might like to pretend to be Mario for a while there among the Arakoa.

Another example of bad gameplay that revolves around a no-fly zone is Garnia's pool on the Timeless Island. Garnia drops a highly coveted ruby elemental maybe once in a blue moon, but accessing his location is slow and difficult by way of The Monstrous Seagull Express on Timeless Island. Not only is the transport a time investment by itself, because you can't come and go very effectively, it feels like the only way to try and farm for that rare drop is to leave a character up there indefinitely. That's just an obsequious barrier towards trying to get something you want in a game full of such barriers and challenges.

Disrespecting the Players

Flying has been a feature of Warcraft for such a long time now that I'd bet most players can't really remember a time when it wasn't in the game. To one extent or another, every player has crafted their play time around this ability and invested countless resources in obtaining and expanding their flying experience. To cut all that off is to reduce the value of the game for these players and to diminish the value of their efforts and resources.

Let's consider a few things, shall we?
  • A flight form is a unique feature of the Druid class.
  • Each major "reward" mount for clearing special raid challenges has been a flying mount. 
  • Blizzard sells flying mounts on its game store for real live money. It's almost kinda funny that the announcement about flying's developer unpopularity would come at about the same time they introduced the Mystic Runesaber at the shop for $25. 
  • Two of the most expensive special items in the game involve flying mounts. (Those are the Vial of Sands and Jeweled Onyx Panther, btw.)
  • In Cataclysm, Blizzard completely remade the old world to enable flying as a primary feature of that expansion.
I realize that Hazzikostas is not talking about removing the existing flying zones from the game, just not bringing any new ones. Nevertheless, when I spent thousands upon thousands of gold for certain mounts; when I spent hours and hours trying to earn something in a raid; when I plunked down money in the Blizzard shop for a flying mount, I did so with the understanding that I would be effectively able to use it in some meaningful way as long as I continued to play the game. For Blizzard to cut that off is to reduce the value of my time, gold and the real-life money I have put into the game.

Developers and have persistently expressed some frustration with players not stopping to really explore the world they have created. I sympathize with that somewhat, in that I appreciate the detail that goes into their world creation but it ought to be the player's choice how they go about exploring the world. I'm betting that millenial, short-attention-span demographic the company is chasing now probably doesn't care about these details whether they run past them or fly over them, but it's still their choice. Maybe Blizzard should change the map reveal functions to only reveal ground that your feet are touching. That would encourage ground exploration but still leave player choice.

I am not okay with the Blizzard developers leaning towards doing away with flying.

I am not okay with them removing it from future expansions. And I expect to see flying at some point during Warlords of Draenor. It is overdue already. Blizzard is making bad game design choices for the wrong reason on this issue. And frankly these choices really start to chip away at a numerically specific value of the game.

I AM ok with delaying flight til max level, or until after the first content patch of an expansion. It's perfectly alright to say, "The environment here is tricky and dangerous and so it's taken us a little extra time to determine some new skills to effectively fly in it. Here, we'll teach you for 2000 gold.

But Flying needs to continue to be a part of this game. I've written recently that developers at Blizzard feel like they have taken out more than they have put into the game. There are legitimate reasons to do so. Cleaning up the spellbook to reduce keyboard clutter is valuable to players after all. There is value to be had in not carrying around reagents because your bag is ready for more stuff. But removing flying from the game brings nothing for the player, and would be a much bigger disincentive to continue playing WoW than anything else that has come out before.

1 comment:

  1. Completely agree. Perhaps Marketing, charged with selling goodies to players, isn't in communication with Developers? Kinda disfunctional if you ask this Night Elf.