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A Look Inside the Blizzard Summit of 2009

Posted Fri, Aug 21, 2009 by Stow

Ahh, the hallowed halls of Blizzard Headquarters.  We got our annual look at what goes on under the hood of this gaming monster right at the crack of dawn on the day before Blizzcon.  We got information on every universe's games, and got completely shut down about their 'unannounced project'.  Undeterred, we'll give you the rundown on what you missed out on here at Ten Ton Hammer!

Staying in a hotel right outside Blizzcon's main doors, it was about an hour long trip before we got the pearly gates of gaming.  Well, maybe not THAT attractive, but after a bit of a debacle going back and forth with the gate attendant, I managed to make my way into the complex and immediately had to pay tribute to the incredible 12' tall Orc Wolfrider statue that resides on the main patio between buildings.  'Dedicated to creating the most epic entertainment experience ever', the plaque on the ground stated.  After picking up my jaw off the concrete, I made my way through what was more or less the Museum.  Framed pieces of classic art from Warcraft manuals and boxes, concept art ranging from Blood Elves to Druids, and a trophy case that could rival top college teams, it was so filled with silver and gold.

Bashiok gave us the run down on the day's agenda and immediately fired up Diablo 3 to show us what the Male Wizards are capable of.  It took place in a desert canyon that somewhat resembles Act II, but more confined.  Some details below.
  • There's a new status view above your spell list.  It shows your active spells, such as Ice Armor, their duration remaining, and when the spell expires, the icon shows up over your head and turns red to remind you it has expired and you should probably recast it!
  • Mana globes are out.  Instead of having multiple types of orbs drop, mana dependent builds can now take a skill that causes health orbs to also regenerate a set number of mana as well.  This leads me to believe they'll be ineffective later, but time will tell!
  • Potion cooldowns are in, but potion healing is instant.  Knowing when to fight and when to be patient is going to be key to surviving.
  • Inventory system is somewhat back.  The basic inventory workspace is 5x8. All items are either 1 or 2 spaces, no more gigantic shields it seems.
  • Pants!  There's now a pants armor slot!   Now you can finally  be stylin'.
  • Shrines are back with a 1 minute duration.  Bashiok specifically stated that shrines are a reason to go nuts because the bonuses have been increased.  Increased magic find shrine?   Yes please!
  • Mix and Match Skill Trees.  You no longer need 5 points in Fire to access the next tier, you can actually spend 5 points ANYWHERE and get to the next level of spells for all 3 trees.  What's the point of trees then?  They've actually merged them all together into one big skill interface.  You'll have to see it to believe it, but no pictures were allowed.
  • Synergy is out.  It was said that they are taking steps to make sure the lower tier abilities are still useful in the end.   I think we should have faith in them personally; they did a great job in Diablo II with it.
  • The ability to reset your skill tree is definitely in, but no details were available as to how often or how it is done.
  • The wizard has a mirror image skill to attract fire while he gets to safety or unleashes hell.  He actually has a melee range only spell called Spectral Blades to give him some potency in close combat... since there are enemies that laugh at ranged, such as the new Sand Dervishes that spin into a whirlwind that reflects projectiles back at you with deadly results if you're not careful!

Whew, that was a lot.  With that demo down, we got a good look at the real offices, where the work behind the scenes is done to give us that glossy finished product.  Without going into any details for sake of the individuals, they have great taste and line the walls with their favorites.  Perhaps it's to give them inspiration to go the extra mile.  Whatever the case may be, it's certainly working.  And the Frostmourne replicas are a great touch.  If that wasn't enough, the new Blizzard Library that just opened gives them access to a wealth of development tools for all aspects of their jobs... as well as access to some of the finest fantasy materials around in Dungeons and Dragons, Wheel of Time, Tolkein, and even graphic novels.  Oh, and they can check out games from there too.  I could certainly use some of that inspiration.

Before I lost myself in that wealth of knowledge and entertainment, thankfully, it was time to head to the cafeteria for lunch.  Much of my time was spent with Alex Tsang, the Tools Producer for the game and a bit of a connoisseur of PvP.  Seeing as this man knows how to report to the powers that be, we got to talk about a lot of important things.

Hunters

  • Beast Mastery is being looked at.  Pet Scaling has been considered but isn't a real option due to it being, well, boring.  He did have a good laugh about it being entirely worthless in PVP at the moment since the pet can be slaughtered by any DPS and that instantly cuts the hunter's total output by 50%.
  • Explosive shot got what it deserved and probably still isn't fully balanced yet.
  • More people need to realize the power of the 90% AoE Reduction of Snake Trap Snakes in PVP since it forces multiple cooldowns to be used typically rather than one instant.  All which aren't aimed at you.

The Rise to the Top

WoW started as a 12 man project. It was originally planned for 24 servers with 24 more to come by the year's end.  Unfortunately, someone big called them the day after it went on sale and said "Put them up.  Now."  And the rest is history.

They're starting to run out of good ideas for server names.  He mentioned Area 51 was particularly bad and that the names originally weren't even decided on at HQ, but elsewhere!  Would you play on a server named Cookie Crisp?

Back at E3 when it was originally shown, it was a game with no UI more or less.  They pasted together an extremly shoddy (but decent to look at) UI for the purposes of the trailer.  The following year, everyone had copied that UI, and Blizzard unveiled the REAL UI that was shipping with the game.  Now look, everyone's trying to copy Blizzard again.  When will they ever learn?

WoW and Warcraft 3 were originally designed to run under the exact same engine.  But as each game evolved it became quickly apparently that each one had far different needs and WoW was rebuilt, and eventually, that engine formed those legendary alpha Warcraft 3 screenshots.

They dream about breaking the healer, tank, DPS archetypes.

And a few key things with everyone's favorite forum man in blue, Ghostcrawler

  • Fan of Knives has deserved this nerf coming in 3.2.2 for a long time.
  • He's confident in all of his answers, but isn't afraid to admit he's wrong on a few things.  Of course, we see it as corrective/turnabout posting later on and call shenanigans, but the man earns my respect for putting up with us and admitting to his faults when he is in error.

Lastly, we had a brief panel on the future of contact with the company at the moment, and it's Twitter!  Head on over to /starcraft, /warcraft, or /diablo and you'll see that they're serious about their fans with up to the date info and contests.  At the moment they're handing out 500 beta keys, so they're serious about making it a major part of the Blizzard fan experience.  Might be time to make an account if you haven't already!  After all, you won't get a tour quite like this one without making yourself known as their number one fan or player! 

That wraps up our trip to the magnificent headquarters of that which produces our addictions, Blizzard Entertainment.  If only they could do something about the traffic in the area, I'd call it perfection.  See you on the floor at Blizzcon!

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