Interview with Rob Pardo

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    Interview with Rob Pardo

    Subscribe to the Blizzard Insider! In anticipation of the release of the Warcraft III Expansion Set, the Blizzard Insider sat down with Lead Designer Rob Pardo to talk about the development of The Frozen Throne.

    Blizzard Insider: There have been frequent comparisons between The Frozen Throne and Brood War™, the StarCraft® expansion set. Brood War's new units and features ended up making StarCraft a lot more balanced. Were there specific imbalance issues in Warcraft III that you thought had to be addressed?

    Rob Pardo: I think Warcraft III is a very balanced game, but certainly over time hardcore players will find advantages to exploit in any RTS. For example, a lot of the new units focus on anti-casters because one of the prevalent strategies in Reign of Chaos was to go with all casters. There are definitely other examples as well. We wanted to make sure every race had the ability to siege islands with just air units. So even though we don't really have a lot of island maps, there are some, like Lost Temple, where a player could run to an island and turtle up. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult for some of the races to successfully siege that island and land. So, we made several changes to the existing units like the Frost Wyrm and the Chimaera, and added new units, like the Bat Rider and the Dragon Hawk, to make sure that every race could do that and to make island maps more viable. So, there were a lot of little tweaks: casters, island sieges, trying to add heroes to existing races that didn't have that type of hero already.

    BI: Some people are saying that with the new balance changes, the races are losing some of their identity. The Night Elves were the hit-and-run race with little melee, while the Orcs were heavy on melee and light on ranged attacks. But with the Mountain Giant being added to the Night Elves, for example, aren't those distinctions between races being blurred?

    RP: Well, anytime you add new units or new heroes to a race that argument can be raised, but I actually disagree. The same sorts of arguments came up with the lurker during Brood War, with some people saying, "Now the Zerg have area-effect damage like the Protoss." I think it is easy to look at any individual unit in an expansion and claim that the abilities that it adds to a given race blur the distinctions between them - since a new unit is designed to fill a niche. But to take the case you just brought up, the Mountain Giant cannot stand toe-to-toe with Taurens or with Grunts or with Raiders. He is much more of a meat shield, which to me maintains the Night Elves' identity as a fragile race that has to use these Mountain Giant constructs to stand in front of their archers. If anything, I think that the race identities are more diverse than before.

    BI: How has each race changed with the additions in the expansion? Are there any glaring weaknesses or unfair advantages a race had previously that have been addressed in the Expansion, such as the Orc's lack of dispel magic or the Undead's skeleton rushes?

    RP: I don't know if there was anything that we thought was glaring. I think the Reign of Chaos races held up pretty well, even though as millions of players played the game, and after watching tournaments, there were definitely some specialized strategies that finally evolved that we had to look at.

    One example of something we wanted to address was Huntresses for the Night Elves. They were just in general a very powerful unit, thanks to a combination of speed, hit points, the amount of damage they could dish out, and their ability to hide at night. We constantly had problems trying to come up with a way to balance them, until we finally made the Huntresses susceptible to piercing damage in the expansion. And that was really good because it nullified their speed advantage - since players can't just use them to run circles around ranged units. This helps counter their focus fire advantage as well, since huntresses have a short ranged attack compared to the units that are capable of piercing damage.

    You also just mentioned the dispel changes. That was something we looked at with every race because we wanted to remove the Wand of Negation from the Goblin Merchant. We felt like that was such a powerful item and so easy to access that there was a whole host of spells, buffs and effects in the game that could be negated without requiring very much skill from the player. The obvious problem, however, was that once we removed it, we also had to make sure that every race had ways to dispel magic. We did that with each of the races by adding spells like mana flare and disenchant, which ensure that each of the races can handle summonables and can dispel in general.

    BI: Are there any other game balance issues that you wanted to address with the other races?

    RP: With Humans, for example, on certain small maps they had an overpowering advantage with their fast expand. So, we made some changes to power build. We made it a little more expensive and slower, so it's tougher to build your first group of militia, go out and take down a gold mine creep camp, and then just erect a town hall on the spot.

    BI: What about the Undead and Orcs? In our interview with Tillerman last month, he said that in Reign of Chaos, the majority of Undead players were using just Ghouls with Heroes, but now, he was seeing more diverse Undead strategies in The Frozen Throne beta. How did you go about ensuring that one-dimensional strategies like this would be remedied in The Frozen Throne?

    RP: When we evaluate units we look at why certain ones are used exclusively and others aren't. In the case of Ghouls, I think a lot of the problem revolved around Scrolls of Healing. What players would do is go to Goblin Merchants, load up on Scrolls of Healing, and then go out with their Ghouls. Since Ghouls are balanced as low-hit-point, high-damage units, the other player would start attacking the Ghouls or use area effect damage, and then the Undead player would just use several Scrolls of Healing, one right after the other, until the Ghouls came out on top. We addressed this strategy in the expansion in two ways. The first is that we put cooldowns on scrolls and other perishable items so now you can't just use items like Scrolls of Healing every couple of seconds. You have to wait for the cooldown to expire before you can use another one. The second thing we did was make quite a few changes to the Crypt Fiends so that they are more useful. We added the burrow skill, and we tweaked their damage and hit points, so at this point both Ghouls and Crypt Fiends are solid units, either together or separate from each other.

    As for the Orcs, among other things we incorporated some global changes that made them less reliant on shamans and tech strategies. We made teching a little more expensive and slower. So to get straight to Tier 3 technology you had to take some risks. We didn't feel like there was really enough at stake in the decision to tech up in Reign of Chaos, so we weakened static defense, we made it more expensive in lumber to go up the technology tree, and we ended up nerfing shamans along with other casters. So with Orcs, we had to look closely at all of their units [since they were so reliant on teching early], from Grunts all the way up to Taurens to make sure that they had plenty of strategies to survive now that teching was slowed. We examined their early game closely. Healing is a good example of something that we felt could increase the Orcs' effectiveness at Tier 1. We addressed that through an item at their new shop, the Healing Salve, which enables players to go out with just Grunts and keep them alive. And, we also gave them a hero with a healing spell, so you have a couple of different options. If you want to go Farseer first, you can use Healing Salves. If you choose a Shadow Hunter first, then perhaps you don't need them to succeed.

    BI: What big changes are you making in The Frozen Throne that aren't specific to the races?

    RP: Another significant change we made was to Town Portal. In Reign of Chaos, Town Portals opened instantly, and the second and third heroes created by a player came with a Scroll of Town Portal already in their item inventories. We wanted to make these items less powerful and less prevalent. The whole reason for Town Portal originally was so that you could help your ally and also so you could mitigate "luck wins," where you might be out on the battlefield and someone either lucks into your base and destroys it while you are out creeping or they wander up behind your army while you are attacking a creep camp. Town Portal originally provided an opportunity to get out of those situations, but it turned into this abused mechanic where one player would be out on the battlefield and he or she would run into the other player and just teleport back home, and then go out and creep in a different direction, run into the other player, and teleport home, and so on without ever engaging. Players would just creep for the first 15 minutes of the game and then fight each other, and that just wasn't as much fun as direct confrontation. So we made changes to Town Portal to try and encourage more player-versus-player combat.

    Another major tweak was: we stopped heroes from gaining experience from creeps after level five. This was also done in an effort to encourage players to fight each other more. We think creeping is a really fun dynamic for the first five minutes of the game and sporadically after that, but people would tend to use creeps as a precious resource, and not until they mined the entire map of them would players fight each other. We wanted to try and get past that.

    BI: Early in the design process of Reign of Chaos, some pro gamers were complaining about creeping and asking for it to be removed. Is it still such a controversial subject, and do you think the changes you've implemented in The Frozen Throne will finally make all parties happy?

    RP: Creeping is one of those things where there are so many different people saying so many different things that I don't think there is any real consensus on it. There are also people that would do nothing but creep if given the opportunity. So, the biggest thing we tried to do was first look at a popular map like Lost Temple, where players generally feel like the amount of creeping you do versus the amount of fighting against players and attacking their bases feels balanced in a fun way. Then, we tried to think of rule sets and maps where that experience could be duplicated as much as possible. Some of that thinking translated into how we made maps. For example, some maps have way too many creeps on them or the items are too powerful. We also attacked the issue of excessive creeping with the level five cap on gaining experience for killing them. Let's say you are playing a map like Gnollwood, which is a six-player map that you are playing with only two. Well, there are enough creeps for six players on that map, so if you are playing with fewer opponents, you can turn the game into what some people call "Creepcraft." So we decided to put in this barrier on experience so that if you are playing on a map like that you could still go out and creep and have a good time in the early game without it getting out of hand. We put creeps in the game for a couple of reasons: one was we felt like a lot of RTS games focus too much on town management for the first ten minutes of the game and that is boring. Once you go through the process for ten straight games you start getting tired of the same build orders every game. So, we thought creeping would be a little more interesting. At least you would have to be active and move around your base early. The other reason for creeps was to be another check against acceleration towards defeat, where if you lose your hero or your army early, then you have an opportunity to turtle for a little bit in your base and go out and attack some creeps to get your levels up. That wasn't happening in the past, because whoever won the battle would then go out and kill all the creeps so that you didn't get a chance to come back. With the level five barrier in place we think it's more likely players will be able to regroup from early defeats and get back into the game by creeping

    BI: How do you balance between the needs of the pro gamer and the beginner player? With these two different groups seeing and doing different things, how do you reconcile these two camps in the expansion?

    RP: We feel that both types of gamers are important, so the solutions to different problems are often very complicated. Pro gamers would have been happy with us all but removing creeps. But of course there are a lot of people that really like creeps, and I would argue the majority of people do. That's why we attacked it the way we did--by looking at maps that are overcreeped and by putting in an experience barrier that still allows everyone to creep and makes it an integral part of the game while also staving off a lot of the excessive use of this game mechanic.

    Balancing the needs of several types of players is the goal every time we make a game. We certainly listen to the pro gamer, but the other members of our audience have a strong voice as well. Sometimes we'll make a change similar to the one they are suggesting, other times we will make a different change to get at what they are really trying to voice, and occasionally we won't make a change at all because it would be too harmful to the gameplay or because we don't agree that it would improve the experience.

    BI: One of the most exciting new additions is the neutral heroes. How are they balanced with the race heroes?

    RP: The way we approached neutral heroes was to make them as viable as every other hero. Originally, our goal was to make your first hero choice almost as important as your race choice, where it would largely dictate what types of units you create and how you might play the map. But we have learned over time that this isn't a completely attainable goal, as there are certain spells you need early depending on the race you are playing, and this narrows the hero choices a little at the start. Having said that, our current goal is to make sure every hero is useful. In my opinion we've succeeded in doing that, and every hero in the game at this point is viable as a first or a second choice.

    We approached the neutral heroes in the same way. We want to make it possible for you to actually have a starting strategy with these new mercenaries. For example, the Dark Ranger is a fairly popular starting hero. We didn't want to make them stronger than the race heroes, and we also didn't want to make them weaker. We just wanted to make all of the heroes useful in the game.

    The neutral heroes also give you a way to use different strategies you might not otherwise be able to draw from. The Sea Witch, for example, is another popular hero I've seen players start with. They actually build a strategy around always going with a Sea Witch and a Paladin. Some people will only want to play maps with Taverns. I think heroes are one of the most defining features of War III and the feature that people enjoy the most. This was a way to get more heroes in the game in a cool way. When we're confined creatively by the race kits, there are a lot of heroes we can't really do. So, the neutral heroes and the tavern gave us a way to put a variety of new heroes into the game.

    BI: So it's actually viable to have a neutral hero be your first choice? Even though the Tavern is a neutral building outside your town? And don't you need a hero in the first place to use the tavern?

    RP: One of the other changes in The Frozen Throne we made was to allow any unit to activate a neutral building, so all you have to do is bring a peon or a grunt or any unit out to the tavern. Also - and this changes a little map by map - we've generally chosen to not guard taverns with creeps. And even if we have, you can wait until nighttime, which happens pretty early in the game, to get your first neutral hero. We did make tavern heroes appear just slightly later in the game, so you have to wait just a little bit longer but that doesn't have too much of an affect on the game.

    BI: How do the new shops work in the game? What could a new player expect to see from them and how do they impact games now?

    RP: One of the things we found with the Goblin Merchant in Reign of Chaos was that there were several items there that became integral to strategies, like Wands of Negation, Scrolls of Town Portal, Scrolls of Healing, and such. These items were interesting and they gave you a little more versatility in how you played the game. Interestingly enough, people often did not want to play on maps without Goblin Merchants because they were so integral to strategies. So, we thought it was a cool extension to make a version of these that would be player-built buildings differentiated by race. We then made the universal items that are so key to strategies in almost every game available there - like Scrolls of Town Portal. We made the items on the new Goblin Merchant not quite as key to every game and took those previous items and either put them in the player-built shops or, like with the Wand of Negation, removed them entirely from the game. But in that case, we also ended up giving each of the races the ability to dispel efficiently.

    BI: Can you talk about the Orc campaign?

    RP: When we first outlined the expansion's story, we knew we wanted to have Arthas and Illidan racing for The Frozen Throne. That was the core of the storyline, but when we were deciding exactly how that race took place, and who was involved, and what everybody's motivations were, we kept coming back to the fact that involving the Orcs was rather difficult considering that we left them in building a new nation in Kalimdor at the end of Reign of Chaos. It seemed like each time we tried to fit them into The Frozen Throne storyline, it was like jamming a square peg into a round hole. It just didn't feel right. It seemed like we were reaching too much. We finally said, "Hey, what if the Orcs aren't in the campaign?" But we didn't want to leave them out of the expansion, since that would suck too. So we decided to do something a little more fun.

    An idea that we've had kicking around here for a little while was to go even further down the RPG path than we have in the past. So we decided to do a full-blown RPG campaign and we needed a fair amount of new functionality to accomplish that, such as maps that acted almost like zones. We played around with it and made some changes to the editor and created the Orc campaign. The Orc story has an episodic style to it. We put Act I on The Frozen Throne disc and then Acts II and III will be available on the website in a couple of months. We think it will be a fun bonus campaign. I don't want people to feel like it's supposed to be a full campaign like the other three in Frozen Throne. It's more like a bonus; something for people to have fun with - a breath of fresh air once they finish The Frozen Throne campaign, which is more in the traditional RTS mode.

    BI: Which of the campaign missions is the most fun in your opinion?

    RP: Probably one of the most interesting levels just because it is so different from the rest of the campaign and will catch people off guard is the secret level. I'll leave it at that.

    BI: Now that the expansion set is finally done and you've had time to reflect on it, how do you feel about The Frozen Throne?

    RP: I feel really good about it. I think it's a very big expansion, and people will be extremely happy with it. It's turned out to be very cool. It has a ton of new stuff. It has an awesome campaign. Adding up all the incremental features, there's a tremendous amount of new things for players to enjoy. I think at least from the polish standpoint, it's definitely more of a step forward than even Brood War was from StarCraft. So I'm pretty excited about it.

    I don't know if anyone likes to read about this interviews, but if you want, I could post more of them, if you would like me to stop, and don't post them, tell me please
    // Reinn

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    Hell, please change the font collors!! >.<
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