By Polar Aug 22, 2013

Polar from GuildOx.com interviewed Ion Hazzikostas, lead encounter designer, who joined us to talk about the upcoming Siege of Orgrimmar raid and patch 5.4. Ion covers the Siege of Orgrimmar lore and background, how to get there, new mechanics, recommended item level for entry, comments on the race to world first, an insight on what trash awaits us and much more.

Polar: Patch 5.4 brings us a new raid called the Siege of Orgrimmar – which we are all very excited about. We have seen a build-up of tensions with Garrosh recently. Can you provide some lore on what has suddenly triggered Orgrimmar to be in lock-down mode?

Ion: There’s a couple of separate events. In Patch 5.3 we’ve seen developments on two major fronts. Garrosh has been excavating under the Vale of Eternal Blossoms - his forces have discovered a terrible secret there and its power is what has destroyed the vale when fully unleashed (as seen in our official trailer for patch 5.4). Then in the meantime the Darkspear trolls are really in open rebellion, in fact, most of the horde other than Garrosh’s loyalists in Orgrimmar, are rebelling against his rule and his tyranny. The Darkspear forces are fighting their way up through Durotar moving towards open confrontation and siege at the gates of Orgrimmar lead by Vol’jin. So Orgrimmar is under assault on that front then the events in the vale really just bring the armies of the world crashing down on Garrosh and his city.


Polar: Where is the Siege of Orgrimmar raid entrance itself since you mentioned two locations there?

Ion: The entrance in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. The raid is called the Siege of Orgrimmar but it is more of the story of the Siege of Orgrimmar – the events leading up to it and the aftermath. Players begin in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms in a portal that was unearthed beneath the foundations of Mogu’shan Palace by the massive blast that occurred that ruined the vale and there players discover and investigate what happened in the vale itself and that leads them to Orgrimmar for an all-out assault.


Polar: So it covers several different locations, which is something quite unique in that we have not seen it in raids for quite a while.

Ion: There’s only one straight up teleportation that occurs. I think it was a fair criticism that many players had of Dragon Soul that it was a bit too disconnected, too disjoint, because you are constantly going through portals from one spot to another. Here it is really a four boss stretch in Vale and then, after you defeat the Sha of Pride (the 4th boss), there is a very natural transition where factions leaders come in and inform you of an invasion that is going on in Orgrimmar and you take a portal to join the forces there. Once you are there it is fully contiguous as you fight your way up to the gates of Orgrimmar through the streets down into Ragefire Chasm underneath the city and finally into Garrosh’s underground compound.


Polar: Sounds very exciting!

Polar: Moving on to tuning and mechanics - with the Throne of thunder we saw a maze introduced with Durumu, turtle kicking on Tortos and constellation tracing on the Twin Consorts. What would you consider the most innovative encounters in this upcoming raid and can we seen any new mechanics?

Ion: Yes, as always we have fun new tricks up our sleeves. A couple of examples that I would cite would be the third encounter Norushen has, as part of the theme of the encounter, players need to purify themselves. You are being put through trials by this titan construct to make sure those only pure of heart can go through and face the Sha of Pride and, over the course of the encounter, players are actually purging corruption from themselves by going through individualized trials that are specific to their role. People go in through a phase and whether you are healer, tank or dps you are facing a solo challenge in the middle of the fight that is customized to your role but after you succeed in that you are able to better contribute to the ongoing encounter outside. Separately, Garrosh himself has a really fun variation on mind control, it is probably my most favorite mechanic in the zone - standard mind control with two people mind-controlled on 10 and four on 25, but rather than using the regular abilities such casting fireball or blizzard they instead run towards their other allies and try to attack them and if they attack them successfully they also become mind controlled. And so it can spread exponentially very quickly if unchecked and it adds a whole new level of really needing to lock down and control mind controlled allies as you work to break them out. The wipes when you fail to do this are pretty hilarious to watch since it goes from 2, 4, 8, 16 and then the whole raid is MC’d.


Polar: How do you tune such encounters, and beyond just mind controlling – in general. We noticed that you have put a lot of effort in during the past two months on the PTR. How do go about tuning 10man raids and 25man raids? Do you typically start by tuning the 10m raid then scaling it up for 25m or vice versa? How do you chime in with heroic vs. normal? What is your typical tuning regime?

Ion: Yes, we had a very extensive round of PTR testing that is still ongoing. We have 25 heroic testing that will be continuing over the course of next week. The tuning process begins internally where we have internal raids that iterate on every boss before anyone outside Blizzard sees it. We also, at this point, have a pretty solid base of experience and knowledge in terms of ball-park ratios of 10/25, normal/heroic and what sorts of numbers should work. When we are trying to figure out basics like “how hard should abilities hit”, it is easy for us to look at Throne of Thunder we know worked there, so we can say players are going to have 15% more health or do 20% more damage with the gear they are going to have when they get to this fight in the Siege of Orgrimmar so we can use that as a kind of baseline. And then it is just a matter of play-testing and see how individual mechanics help or hinder dps in a way that makes us have to adjust the underlying numbers and listen to player feedback, we observe raids extensively and it is a bit subjective and a bit science and it all works out in the end.


Polar: Which encounter in the Siege of Orgrimmar has taken the most effort in tuning so far?

Ion: That’s a good question, I would say the ones with the most moving parts tend to be trickiest. I would actually say the Norushen encounter that I mentioned a little bit earlier, the third fight in the zone, just because the way the fight works. Players come in, they have this corruption bar with 75 units of corruption, and you can’t actually damage the boss very effectively while you’re corrupt. Players need to go in and cleanse themselves of the corruption by performing the individual trial that I mentioned which lets them do extra damage to the boss but when they complete the trial it spawns adds outside and so there is this careful balance of how many people players want to send it at a time since if they send too many in they can get overwhelmed but also creates a lot of loopholes for degenerate strategies like we saw on Primordius in the Throne of Thunder where if we don’t get the boss health right you could just ignore the whole thing and just blast and burn the boss down, ignoring all the mechanics. Whereas if we try to dis-incentivize that too much players run into other points of tension. In general, the more moving parts an encounter has the more we are trying to say “we want you to do the fight this way” without breaking any threshold where degenerate behavior occurs – that ends up being the trickiest.


Polar: Naturally, many encounters require some tuning after release – for example we saw Horridon having to be tuned down so we could get a bit more progression happening a couple of weeks into the throne of thunder. What factors do you look at to decide what needs post-release tuning? Do you have completion-rate goals for example?

Ion: Yes, it is not about strict complete rate but we have data about the number of attempts that guilds are taking to defeat a certain boss. We also can see what the roadblocks are. In the case of Horridon it was a very large jump-up in difficulty from Jin’rokh to Horridon and a lot of guilds were just stuck there and, in particular, our feeling was that was not a good place to have any sort of brick wall that early in the zone. It is very demoralizing and does really offer that much prospect for progression – killing one boss per week and getting stuck on boss #2. You will note that harder fights such as Megaera and Durumu that we did not really touch because our thinking was once you get to that point you are at least killing 5 or 6 bosses and even if you can’t beat Durumu, every week you are getting measurably stronger because you are getting 6 bosses worth of loot, versus getting stuck that early on which can be problematic a bit demoralizing. For the people that were stuck on Horridon and required the difficulty adjustments that overlaps a lot for some of our core audience for the flexible mode and that problem is what our flexible mode is aimed to address. We are looking forward to seeing how that plays out.


Polar: On the LFR we had a few weeks similarly where a couple of the encounters appeared to be quite a big obstacle for LFR teams. I remember queuing for them regularly and Durumu and Lei Shen in particular were quite challenging and would sometimes require 6 or 7 stacks of determination before they were done. However, we saw that LFR groups managed to master these encounters over the subsequent weeks. Was this intentional or have you adjusted the LFR to be a little more forgiving?

Ion: We made a couple of adjustments but for the most part I think that’s just an organic process. The changes we made to Durumu were also made in normal and heroic mode. The initial version that appeared in LFR had a somewhat confusing an difficult to see maze visual and once we fixed that we found that the mechanic in general became more intuitive and easier to handle across all difficulties. In the case of Lei Shen, I think this is really a case where we have seen players generally learn and improve and communicate. You will go into Lei Shen group in LFR and see people say ok “group 1 north, group 2 east” because they realized you can’t just wing it; you can’t just pull the boss and hope everything will just work out. You need some basic plan. That is just and organic part of how the content evolves. Groups are definitely going to have a harder time the first time they ever go in there when hardly anyone in the group has actually done the fight before. You might have a few guild raiders that have done the fight on normal but for the most part people are learning and experiencing it for the very first time versus today when you go to queue for LFR probably 80-90% of the group has at killed Lei Shen at least once, they have already experienced what a successful kill looks like and so they know what to do to repeat it. We think that’s fine. Determination is really there to make it more of a sliding scale but the first groups that have those frustrating experiences still won, it might have taken them a few more wipes but determination helped get them across the finish line whereas the groups today can just win faster.


Polar: What is the entry-level difficulty of the Siege of Orgrimmar? What Throne of Thunder boss would a guild need to have mastered to be a good chance of starting in the new raid?

Ion: It is going to vary a lot on overall skill level of the group but we tuned the overall Siege of Orgrimmar first wing around an expectation of around item level 520. Players who have killed some bosses in normal Throne of Thunder or who have just done a lot of heroic scenarios and upgraded their gear should be able to walk in and handle the first couple of bosses just fine. Once you get to Norshen and Sha of Pride the challenge will increase a little bit, but most people should be able to come in and find success with Immersius and The Fallen Protectors.


Polar: Moving on to the race for world first where we see the top guilds of the world nailing your heroic content a quickly as possible. We saw Dark Animus present some challenges for the world-first race on heroic mode – and when we last spoke you predicted that this fight would require the most planning. Which bosses in the Siege of Orgrimmar might pose some challenges for the upcoming world-first race?

Ion: Let’s see. I am going to say Siegecrafter Blackfuse… I think the last few bosses, Siegecrafter Blackfuse, Paragons of the Klaxxi and of course Garrosh, befitting their place near the end of the instance, are all going to have some very significant challenges that they pose. Obviously all the bosses are difficult but these world class guilds that have been practicing on the PTR and are taking every possible advantage, they’re going to progress through the rest of the zone at roughly the same rate that they progressed through Throne of Thunder.


Polar: The final encounter with Garrosh looks to be complex you mentioned that it should present quite a challenge. It is a multi-phased fight – where is it going to take the players?

Ion: Part of the Garrosh encounter starts as a nice culmination, tying Garrosh and his character, his storyline back into the events in Pandaria and the power of the old god Y'Shaarj that he is harnessing. So during the fight players are pulled in/transported to visions to places where the Sha has manifested itself most strongly in Pandaria. Somewhat reminiscent of Yogg-Saron brain rooms, players will fight through twisted versions of places such as the temple of the jade serpent, red crane temple or the terrace of endless spring during the course of the encounter, though it all physically takes place in Garrosh’s throne room.


Polar: That sounds pretty exciting.

Polar: We saw the Throne of Thunder heroics knocked-over in just over 12 days by top guilds such as Method and DREAM Paragon. How long do you expect that it will take for the Siege of Orgrimmar heroic to be conquered?

Ion: At this point I know better than to make predictions or bet against those top guilds. They are going to put in an amazing amount of effort, skill and dedication and I expect Heroic Garrosh is very hard. I think Heroic Garrosh is going to be compared to bosses like Heroic Lei Shen, Heroic Ragnaros, Heroic Lich King in terms of pantheon of epic, super-challenging end bosses but even those bosses died in a certain number of attempts over a certain number of days. We don’t make fights to be impossible – we could do that very easily if we wanted to. We make fights to be on the edge of what is capable and the very best guilds in the world are going to be able to do the things that are just barely possible. It would not surprise me to see a very similar timeframe, maybe a few days longer since this is a slightly larger zone than the Throne of Thunder.


Polar: The trash in the Throne of Thunder was the most evil that I have seen in recent times. Who is in charge of designing the trash and where do they live?

Ion: A large snail (laughter)


Polar: Are there any more gastropods in the Siege of Orgrimmar?

Ion: Yes! There is one.


Polar: People are going to be looking forward to that. What can we expect from the trash in the Siege of Orgrimmar?

Ion: As always it serves as a pacing mechanism. It serves to break up gaps between bosses. It also helps to sell the story of the places that you are experiencing and going through. Players will see a sha-infested ruined vale but I think one of the most impactful moments is when players first enter the underhold area of Garrosh’s underground compound. They take this elevator down after defeating General Nazgrim and they enter the barracks where you really get the feeling that there is an army here that is training and massing and getting ready for an all-out assault on Azeroth. That’s the environment that players are coming in to. While of course the focus tends to be on the bosses and the epic battles with the bosses it just would not feel the same and would not feel right if you were just walking through empty hallways devoid of anything but the bosses. That’s what the other mobs help blend and sell.


Polar: Your team has been cranking out a lot of encounters in a relatively short period of time. This release sees 14 new encounters that require a heroic, normal and LFR version for both 10m and 25m. Ignoring the flex raiding, this is 84 raid encounters that require design and tuning. How have you managed all this?

Ion: Honestly, with a lot of hard work. We’ve poured a lot of effort into. My team has been doing a fantastic job just making it all come together over the last couple of months. A huge thanks to everyone in the community that hops on the PTR and tests our encounters. 84 tests is a lot. We’ve be able to get a lot of useful feedback from watching it all play out and at this point, we are really excited to get this into players hands and seeing them experience it in live servers.


Polar: Our time is nearly up. Before you go, what special advice do you have for all the raiders out there that are licking their lips and about to jump straight into the Siege of Orgrimmar?

Ion: Take a moment to look around. There are a lot of fun little flavor things throughout the entire raid that are part of the story we are telling and are extensions of the battle in Orgrimmar, whether it is civilians that are trapped here and there or there’s Gammon tied to a tree. One of the fun things about doing the Siege of Orgrimmar has been the cast of characters that we have been able to bring to the fore from the alliance to the horde you have all of these major figures from Varian to Jaina to gnome-king Mekkatorque (who gets in on the action). So many different people make cameos. While the bosses are awesome and the encounters themselves are going to be epic and challenging, I think one of the most fun and unique parts of the raid as a whole is the sheer amount and variety of horde and alliance lore that is spread throughout the whole zone. I encourage players to keep an eye out and stop and smell the roses as they go through and take note of all those things.


Polar: Ion, thank you for your time. It does sound epic and everyone’s going to be absolutely loving the encounters, I am sure of it.

Ion: I hope so and I can’t wait to see them do it.


Join us for all the Siege of Orgrimmar raid progress on GuildOx.com
By Chocolate Aug 27, 2013
One of the best interviews about 5.4 I have read so far!
Finally someone not asking about the dumb flex raiding and virtual realms but actual in depth questions. Would love if it was a recording next time :)
By BBQ Aug 28, 2013
The final encounter with Garrosh looks to be complex you mentioned that it should present quite a challenge. It is a multi-phased fight – where is it going to take the players?

Blizz refers to "Old Gold Y'Shaarj."
By Polar Aug 28, 2013
@Chocolate - thanks for the great feedback. @BBQ - typo fixed!
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