WildStar Interview: Hugh Shelton, Marc Matzenbacher and Jade Martin
Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of sitting down with three of WildStar’s class team: Hugh Shelton (Lead Class Designer), Marc Matzenbacher (Medic Class Designer) and Jade Martin ( Esper Class Designer) to discuss these two classes. I wanted to discuss both of these classes with the design team because having visited the official forums, fan sites and the Reddit community these are the two that time and again come up as needing some love. For both classes many of the questions I asked below were focused on each classes DPS specialisation but healing is discussed in detail alongside references to other classes. Before we asking questions about each class, I first wanted to talk about balance and community impressions of balance. Here’s how we got on (you might want to get yourself comfortable and grab a drink!).
Ten Ton Hammer: What’s the teams initial reaction when you’re constantly told in game, on forums, Facebook or Reddit that WildStar isn’t balanced?
Hugh Shelton: Initial thoughts are to look into what is the issue with the balance. There’s a lot of places where things can go wrong and a lot of places that we are looking at resolving these issues. From the get go, besides just the class balance, we did a lot of our testing for PvP balance with equal gear in an equal setting. Now we’ve released players into the wild and theyre getting all the gear in the game and finding all the item specials that are really strong so the gear discrepancy can play a huge role in player perception of imbalances. This is one thing we’re currently looking at. The item specials that are out there, depending on which class you’re playing, can either be really good or really bad for you. This leads to some class imbalances as they’re gaining access to benefits they shouldn’t be.
For example, the Slow it Down snare was one of the things which was really strong when the game came out and was really punishing against Stalkers. Stalkers don’t really have ways to stick to their target quite like a Warrior does. There’s a lot to do across the game to make sure everything is falling into line and it really goes beyond just the classes. That said, we’re looking at metrics for how different players are doing in the Arenas and Battlegrounds and we’re seeing win ratios - that was one of the things that has helped us with the Stalker. You can see we’ve been buffing the Stalker slowly over time throughout these last patches. That was mainly due to the metrics we were seeing and we began looking into it because of the forums talking about it. When you have things like the Esper and the Medic, it’s a little bit trickier to see how they’re performing in PvP because their healer versions are doing really well. The healer side of those classes can throw off the DPS side of those classes which is something we’re working on with our metric teams so that we can divide the two so that we can actually see players playing as a DPS versus healing to see how they’re performing.
Ten Ton Hammer: How should armor be correlating to damage dealing capabilities? At the moment the two lowest parsing classes are medium and light armor while the Warrior and Engineer (both heavy) have the highest. Is that as intended?
Hugh Shelton: That isn’t by design that those classes should be dealing more damage than the other classes. It’s more of a symptom of some of the issues we have on the back-end of the balance. It’s something that we’re going to address in a future patch. You’ll notice that both of those classes have stances and both of them have what is considered low Assault Power from their weapons. The fact of the matter is that they’re just scaling better than other classes because of this. The issue is made even worse when you have the Assault Power runes. We have the Assault Power runes and they’re giving the same amount of Assault Power to the Warrior and Engineer as they are to the Esper and Spellslinger but it’s throwing things off a bit. Not only are they (Warrior and Engineer) getting Assault Power at the same cost, but they’re also scaling the damage that they’re doing with that Assault Power based on their stances. Every single Assault Power point is much more powerful for a class with a stance than without one. This is something we are working to address and we have a fairly major rework of those tank classes DPS output that we have scheduled to drop in patch four.
Ten Ton Hammer: In terms of DPS output then, how are you currently monitoring burst potential? The Warrior’s is enormous when combined with a gadget, Overdrive and Detonate while charged shot, plus assassinate is also incredibly high...
Hugh Shelton: At the moment we’re just looking at maybe toning down the burst potential from the Spellslinger specifically (Charged Shot) as the damage gets pretty out of control when you get to the Tier 8 of that. We’re looking at ways of adjusting that a bit but to also help with their sustain damage a bit more rather than it all being towards burst. I think the real issue that’s causing burst to get out of hand is again gear related. It’s the fact that we got players to 50 and we let them gear however they want to (crafted, PvP and rune however they want to but we didn’t give them enough health. Players have health pools that aren’t changing but their damage output is growing dramatically. Any class with burst is getting a huge advantage, basically because when you were a fresh level 50 and a Spellslinger, you weren’t going to be able to finish someone off in a second with a Charged Shot and Assassinate combo. We are working with the itemisation team to get more health onto the gear so that the kill times go back to where they should be.
Ten Ton Hammer: How then does the team feel about the current overall balance of the classes and the game this soon after launch?
Hugh Shelton: So I’ve heard from multiple people that as far as MMO launches go, our balance is actually really good. That said, we’re not necessarily happy with where things are and we’ll continue to hammer down on things that are sticking out: resolving the burst kill potential time and making sure all the classes fall in line. Those are issues we clearly have, but they’re things we want to resolve.
Ten Ton Hammer: What’s your overall opinion of the Medic’s “state” at the moment? How far from where you want it to be is it?
Marc Matzenbacher: Well, it’s tough specifically regarding the patch two drop. Something I was trying to highlight in response to the forum posts is that internally some of the things we were seeing, we were worried that the Medic was going to be very far ahead. We may have made a reaction to that which would have been too strong. We’re trying to solve that as well as a solve a mechanic issue that I feel people like while continuing to monitor where they’re at. I think the biggest problem though, for me, is that there are definitely some abilities and a lot of AMPs that are unviable. That’s one of the biggest things we’re focusing on going forward. In patch 3 we’ll have a lot of changes to fields by making those much more viable and creating more build diversity. It’s going to be a very big improvement. In terms of balance though, I think they’re going to be getting much closer to being in line when we make the Assault Power changes that Hugh was mentioning by making sure the classes are scaling much more equally in terms of gear. I think when we make those ability changes they’ll be right in line in terms of raw power. Once we hit that point, it’ll be about tweaking ability mechanics to make sure everything is where we want it to be.
In terms of healing power, I feel they’re very successful. They are kind of hitting the mark where we want them to be, as a utility healer to separate them from the Spellslinger and the Esper with their shield healing the buffs they bring. The biggest thing we need to work on, again, is ability that aren’t viable for the healing role. Triage -Rejuvenator will be much more viable, especially when we make the field changes. After that it’s about tweaking the Medics health healing versus the Medics shield healing.
Ten Ton Hammer: The DPS Medic is a melee class but in comparison to the Warrior and Stalker it has no utility in order to keep players close to them: No permanent snare, No tether, No charge equal to bum rush, No Grapple, No Knockdowns and No Leaps.
Hugh Shelton: Like Marc was saying, we’re definitely going to be looking throughout the AMP tree and ability tier tree to make changes to strengthen them. For the most part we want to play to their strengths and that’s the fact they have really strong self shield healing. Even in a DPS build you can still bring some hybrid self shield healing. They have really good counter CC with the amount of Interrupt Armor that they can bring compared to some of the other classes. We’ve talked about things such as bringing the no Daze AMP into the mix and definitely talked about how Magnetic Lockdown is not super useful as a cast time. We still want to make sure they fill their own niche.
Ten Ton Hammer: On the subject of its niche, what do you think a DPS Medic in its current form brings to a party over other classes? Why take one over a Warrior or Engineer?
Marc Matzenbacher: I think in terms of overall utility in terms of group buffs, they’re one of the highest. I feel like with the changes we’re making to Gamma Rays it will be much more viable in PvP so there won’t necessarily be the single dynamic of getting right up in their face and start damaging. I feel like you’ll be able to stay back a little bit, pop off a couple of abilities and then go in when you want to. I think as you mentioned, changing Magnetic Lockdown into a more responsive ability; Restrictor will apply a debuff when you enter the field that’s going to be a much more viable snare. Specifically, with the two charges so that you can cover a big area with the snare field and it will last on enemies rather than being immediately removed.
Hugh Shelton: The field changes in general will be adding a lot to their range and their potential to control areas. Basically you’ll now enter a field and get the snare or DOT on you and it’ll last the full duration the field would have lasted previously. As long as you touch an enemy with it, they’ll be infected by it for the full duration.
Ten Ton Hammer: What is the vision for the Medic resource system? At the moment as a DPS Medic you’re forced to take Tier 8 in Discharge which cripples any freedom to invest points elsewhere…
Marc Matzenbacher: I think one of the things is the change to Atomize where we removed the RNG elements. I feel we’re going to be exploring those options. Recycler is one where we’re potentially going to be adding Actuator generation to just another ability. Discharge would still be your go to if you want to build a lot of Actuators, but if you want to build one or two you could pop in other abilities to use those quickly and then continue using your consumers. We’ll be doing that on both the DPS and healing side so that there’s more options. We aren’t necessarily planning for players not to use Discharge, because we still want you to be able to use that ability but reduce the reliance and frequency in which you use it.
Ten Ton Hammer: Shield Removal is a big feature of the Medic but at Tier 8 in Dematerialize, it’s still poor compared to say an Engineers Unstable Anomaly. They only need to invest in the skill at Tier 4 in order for it to reduce healing as well. It also means a Medics damage plummets because they have to take so many ability points out of their DPS skills in order to reach the utility. Are you wanting the skill to be so expensive?
Hugh Shelton: It’s definitely expensive. There’s more uptime on it but we’re going to have decide whether we like the fact that you can more than 100% uptime on a target with that Tier 8 or do we move it down to a Tier 4 without that full consistency. We definitely have given the Shield Overload tool to a couple of classes (Engineer and Stalker). Heal debuffs in general is something we’ve talked about a little bit and in the future we may be adding it to some or all the healer classes. We’re still debating it though.
Marc Matzenbacher: I feel that, again, with Field Probes it does apply healing debuff and with the changes to fields it’s going to be much more viable again. Players don’t have to be standing in the field the entire time to get the penalty. I feel that the idea of “Is Dematerialize worth having at Tier 8?” is something we’re exploring overall, while investigating other abilities and tiers that aren’t viable in terms of cost or what they actually do.
Ten Ton Hammer: Medics are more of a sustain healer and Detonate Probes was their only true way of burst healing in moments when tanks or party members were very low. What was the reason for this and when can we expect other skills to be improved to make up the healing loss?
Hugh Shelton: We were seeing premade compositions of teams that ran a certain number of Medic healers in Battlegrounds and then the amount of healing potential that they had was far greater than we ever intended it to be. We investigated the numbers and there were definitely some things we were doing that we shouldn’t have on the balance sheet. We were giving them healing that was multiple timers greater than what we wanted or that it should have been. That said, we will be keeping an eye on it because we don’t want to make it so the Medics can’t heal good. It’s not that we don’t like Medics - we like Medics and all classes - we’ll just be keeping an eye on it. As for the burst part of it, Medics were never really intended to have this huge burst that outshines all the other classes. Within our own testing it hasn’t be a greater as has been made out, but we’ll be reacting quickly if we see they’ll be unable to heal effectively in PvE and PvP because of it.
Marc Matzenbacher: I think specifically with that ability it just came down to that one single tier was adding so much power. With proper play you could essentially full heal somebody if they used it correctly. In terms of power and burst there was nothing that could compare to that and obviously we had to bring it back down to more appropriate levels.
Ten Ton Hammer: How much thought has been given to (re)-balancing abilities that are seldom used to add more build variety? Currently, it seems like the devs are intent on nerfing commonly used builds rather than just making lesser used abilities more attractive.
Hugh Shelton: We’ve been trying to tackle since launch the issues that have come up: the things that are most severe that are making it worse for others to play. Things like Rampage was making a negative experience for players that weren’t Warriors in PvP. We are always going to try to choose whatever makes the most sense when you look at the big picture. The Warrior Rampage, if we didn’t adjust it down, we would have had to bring so many other things up, including health pools. We would have had to make a lot of changes across the board rather than target that single ability. Hopefully that will also increase the viability of other abilities without adjusting them. That said, everything you’ve seen so far has been reactionary things we’re trying to do to mitigate the problem. In the future, starting with patch 4, you’ll start to see things that we had a more significant amount of time to make major changes: changes other than just increasing or decreasing the damage and healing. That’s more of the stuff we want to be developing and that’ll happen when we’re in a more stable state when we don’t have some things outside of the range of where we want them to be.
Ten Ton Hammer: When can Medics expect a second interrupt and do you know what skill you intend to convert?
Marc Matzenbacher: I don’t have an exact ETA, but we’re definitely looking at Magnetic Lockdown right now as the prime target for it. Again we’re looking to make it more responsive and I feel like it’ll be the best option. We explored other options such as on Restrictor but I feel like that would create a weird play pattern where you have to blink back on a mob to interupt them. Magnetic Lockdown is looking to be the best target for that.
Ten Ton Hammer: I’m going to ask the same question as I did with the Medic: What’s your overall opinion of the Espers “state” at the moment? How far from where you want it to be is it?
Jade Martin: We’ll start on the DPS side because I think that’s a hotly debated topic. Right now in a stationary fight I think they’re performing very well. I think they’re often top DPS if you look at a lot of the Genetic Archive parses.
Hugh Shelton: I wouldn’t say often times top DPS. As far as the WildStar Logs go, they’re definitely not competing against some of the other classes.
Jade Martin: I should re-phrase that. They’re competing well against other classes when they’re completely stationary. When a fight requires a lot of movement their Psi Point generation drops massively and you can often times see them falling below the other classes and competing against the bottom. Ideally and with this patch, we’re making Telekinetic Strike mobile as well as their innate so they can move again while they use it. That should help them drastically to compete with other classes on DPS.
Hugh Shelton: It’ll be the first step towards making sure of that. Like I was saying before, the Esper is also suffering from the scaling issues that any of the other classes are that don’t have stances. Until that’s resolved at the very high end they’re not going to be able to perform like the other classes.
Jade Martin: As far as healing is concerned, we’re pretty happy with where they are. They perform their role well and they have a lot of raw healing. We’re definitely looking at abilities that are under used right now. Right now there are abilities that are outshining and you often see Espers just rolling with those abilities. We want to make ability tiers and other healing abilities that are underused, more used.
Ten Ton Hammer: Why did the change to the mobility of Telekinetic Strike and the innate take so long?
Jade Martin: I think what took us so long if I’m being brutally honest is that we just liked that aspect. It’s what made the Esper unique. They were the only class that had to remain stationary to pump out their damage. unfortunately in a lot of fights, being stationary just isn’t realistic. In order to make their damage comparable and competitive with other classes we’d have to drastically buff the amount of damage they do while stationary. So much so they’d almost always come in first if completely stationary. Rather than just buff the damage like that, I think we’ll go the other route to make them mobile, so you don’t always have to be stationary. We’ll give you ways to get a damage boost when stationary through AMPs and ability tiers, so that if you do play stationery you are rewarded and will get that bonus damage.
Hugh Shelton: I would also say that another reason as to why it took the amount of time it took to do the changes is because we were locked for a long time in terms of making any changes to the class up until launch. Maybe 2 or 3 months before launch we were not capable of making any mechanics changes to any of the classes. At that point we launched and there were a number of spell issues throughout the game that my team (the class team) was tasked off of the classes and onto these spells for a fairly significant amount of time. Basically it’s because they were more familiar with the spell system than a lot of the other teams are and they wanted to make sure there weren’t any issues causing major economy exploits or griefing potential throughout the course of the game. Unfortunately we are a little behind in terms of where we would like to be in terms of class changes and that’s just because of the situation we found ourselves in.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do the developers feel that, from a pvp standpoint, the damage of mind burst is in line with the abilities cost, especially when compared to similar burst abilities that can be used nearly as often, ie Charged Shot?
Hugh Shelton: You can’t really compare one classes burst ability against another unless you look into everything that goes into it. Yes an Esper needs to get 5 Psi Points but using the right build and abilities you can get those incredibly fast. Especially now with the innate change providing 5 Psi Points every 30 seconds without the need to stand still, that’s something else that’s adding to Psi Point generation. That said, we’ll definitely keep an eye on it but it isn’t currently a target for any sort of major adjustment up or down.
Ten Ton Hammer: What is your vision for Psychic Frenzy versus Telekinetic Strike? It's the kind of scenario where if you have 2 builders people will always pick up the optimal DPS one. Now that Telekinetic Strike is mobile and ranged PF loses a lot of its appeal…
Jade Martin: Ideally it’s: “Here are two builders, choose which one you prefer and the playstyle you enjoy more.” Telekinetic Strike is probably going to be the ability you use to deal more damage, while Psychic Frenzy will probably be the lifesteal build that allows you to stay in melee range. It kind of lets you get more into the fray of combat and heal off the damage you deal. I would say what differentiates the two the most.
Hugh Shelton: We’re also going to be updating the Tier 4 of Telekinetic Strike. Making it mobile and making Spectral Form mobile was the first step in making these adjustments. We wanted to get something out quick and wanted to improve the life of the DPS Esper with some of the other changes we’re planning will take a little bit more time. The Tier 4 change to Telekinetic Strike you get a bonus when you stand still and when using it, so we’re bringing back some of that reward for stationary gameplay without forcing you to be stationary. In that element Psychic Frenzy will always remain much more mobile. Like Jade was saying, it is more of a tanky life steal build branch than pure DPS.
Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any plans yet to integrate an Espers Psyblade more into animations?
Hugh Shelton: There still aren’t currently any plans to implement the Psyblade into animations but in the future we do have plans that will have Espers using different animations, but it’s far away.
Ten Ton Hammer: Now that Telekinetic Strike is becoming mobile, what are their plans for Illusionary Blades?
Jade Martin: Like Hugh had mentioned, we wanted to improve the quality of life for the DPS Espers, so these changes were made rather quickly. Illusionary Blades is one of those skills that is kind of going to suffer from this but at the same time, it scales really well and actually can fit into a DPS rotation. Yes it’s mobile like Telekinetic Strike but at Tier 4 for example it is a two second charge time and generates two Psi Points. It generates Psi Points faster than Telekinetic Strike and the damage scales a lot better.
Hugh Shelton: From some of the parses we’ve been seeing it’s still very useful in rotations.
Jade Martin: With that said we’re looking into it and seeing what we are doing with it going forward. I know we have a couple of ideas and we will put those into practice internally and see how we feel about it going forward to definitely distinguish it from Telekinetic Strike.
Ten Ton Hammer: Are there plans to rework Bolster? At the moment it's core to every DPS build and yet it has a weak place in the healing arsenal (just serving as a boring off-GCD PP generator rather than functional heal in itself).
Hugh Shelton: We’re definitely aware of it and on one side we’re OK with it. That’s the point of a limited action set (we want you to be able to use abilities from both sides) but we do get that people feel strange about having a healing skill on their bar in certain situations. As far as a dungeon DPS rotation goes, we’d prefer to have that replaced with something else.
Jade Martin: He’s completely right, but with that said we’d rather you replace that with a DPS ability so we’re looking into underused abilities and finding ways that we can fit them into the rotation so they can knock Bolster off the bar as DPS and instead take something from the Assault side than the Support side.
Hugh Shelton: We’ll tell you what’s coming up with Reap. It’s not coming up in patch 2 or 3 but should be in patch 4. Jade will give you the rundown.
Jade Martin: Reap was a very hot topic and was one of three finishers (Mind Burst, Telekinetic Storm and Reap). Reap just wasn’t finding a place in player rotations so we decided to completely rework the ability. It’s no longer a finisher and instead it’s a proc based skill whenever you have 3 or more Psi Points. It’s castable while casting and off GCD and you can throw this straight into your rotation. It’s a direct damage ability that hits one target. The Tier 4 is an Assassinate type mechanic where if your target is below 30% health it’ll deal bonus damage and the Tier 8 is a delayed damage with a Psi Point generation. We’re hoping this will find a place on the bar that will be a much better slot than say, Bolster for example and mixes up the rotation slightly so you’re not always relying on Telekinetic Strike or Mind Burst.
Hugh Shelton: Besides that we’re also looking at other abilities such as Blade Dance and Spectral Swarm to make sure they can fit into your rotation without being DPS losses. These changes are still undergoing internal testing and will be on the Public Test Realm before live servers.
Ten Ton Hammer: With that Reap change, are you wanting to slowly draw Espers away from the need to use load-outs almost entirely built with Utility/CC?
Hugh Shelton: We definitely had that in mind when coming up with the Esper but what we didn’t have in mind was the fact you’d be able to achieve close to optimal DPS without having to invest in additional DPS abilities. That’s something we’re working towards. The changes that we were just mentioning to Reap and some of the other DPS abilities will mean you are giving up a fairly large amount of damage to put those extra utility abilities on your bar. We see Espers going more the pure DPS role or continuing to do the variety of CC build.
Ten Ton Hammer: An Esper healing rotation is basically Soothe and Reverie and DPS is Telekinetic strike and Mind Burst. Are these really the main intended viable rotations? Will there be a redistribution of damage so that Espers are incentivised to use other spells in normal rotation?
Jade Martin: We definitely want to make DPS rotations more viable so it isn’t just builder and finisher. We want it to be more exciting and using more abilities as you’re playing the Assault. Further down the line we’re hoping to open it up a bit more so you’re using more abilities in your rotation. On the healing side, Soothe and Reverie are really outshining the other abilities and we do want to make sure your other abilities are viable and you can fit them into your healing so they do perform as well as Reverie and Soothe.
Hugh Shelton: It’s one of those things that you can look at and you can see that there’s a lot healing abilities the Esper has that we spent a lot of time working on and coming up with creative ways of making them. At the end of the day players are choosing the things that are straightforward abilities that are pure heal output. It’s one of the things we’re also doing to DPS across the board and it’s making sure that a DPS ability in the DPS tree - its major tiers should be doing more damage somewhere. Either buffing a group, debuffing a creature or buffing yourself. If it’s not doing one of those things you’re probably going to take the ability that does do those things.
That’s one of the reasons why the Warriors Rampage is so strong. Its Tier 4 and Tier 8 are both just pure damage. They aren’t just straight damage but they’ll add to your damage output. We suffer the same thing on the healing side with some the classes where we make sure those Tiers are adding something that you need to your rotation. If players aren’t having Focus problems we probably don’t need to worry about Focus too much. If players aren’t worrying about burst then players don’t need to worry about adding mitigation to their bar. We just need to make sure we’re giving them things that are useful to them.
Ten Ton Hammer: You briefly mentioned an Espers pets earlier (Geist and Spectral Swarm) and how they’re always under review. Is their functionality as intended? Are they where you want them to be in their current iteration?
Jade Martin: Geist I think performs really well. We made a recent change to it so it’ll target your closet target. There were times when it would actually run off behind your target and that never feels good. I think Geist as a tank is performing well and as you’re leveling up it feels really good. It does have a place in PvP because of the 15% mitigation. As far as Spectral Swarm is concerned, right now we also made that change to it as well. It should only target your closest target so you don’t have it running off in all different directions. We have a couple of changes in the pipeline to better fit them into your rotation because right now the set is a really long GCD. That doesn’t feel good to the player missing out on the Telekinetic Strike so you end up losing out on DPS. We are going to look into lowering the GCD and making the Tier 8 siphoning more viable so it doesn’t always require someone to kill them before the corpse explosion happens but instead on despawn.
Hugh Shelton: They also have an issue where they’re not hitting quite as often as they should be and that’s something that Jade has solved internally.
Ten Ton Hammer: As one last question and out of curiosity, what levels are your Espers?
Jade Martin: My Esper is not very high. I’m focusing on my Stalker at the moment.
Hugh Shelton: With these changes maybe he’ll be leveling it up.
Jade Martin: I might have to go through the leveling route on my Esper.
Hugh Shelton: We’ve a couple of level 50 Espers around the company at the moment. It’s not the class I’m maining at the moment. I do have one as my alts (in the teens).
Ten Ton Hammer Footnote: In regards to the last question, he clearly knows the Esper very well. That was evident when interviewing him. He doesn't have to level up an Esper in his private time when he isn't working. When he's at work he has access to absolutely everything he needs in the office, including a level 50 Esper with the best items available. When he finishes work, I'm sure he doesn't always want to then level one. It'd be like working at McDonalds and then coming home to make burgers for the evening: a little too similar to work.
Ten Ton Hammer would like to say a big thank you Mike Shelling, Hugh Shelton, Marc Matzenbacher and Jade Martin for taking the time out of their very busy schedules to answer this barrage of questions!
If you want to learn more about WildStar, visit the official website.