Less is More?

As some of you may or may not know, I am actually trained in the skills of an architect. It’s a fun fact about me on the off chance you care about that sort of thing. The reason I bring this up is because all throughout my college career, my teachers attempted to drive home the point that “Less is More”. This is not a new design concept by any means, in fact it is a rather old idea, a 19th century proverbial phrase. It is first found in print in Andrea del Sarto, 1855, a poem by Robert Browning:

Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

Architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe is often associated with this phrase as a founder  of modern architecture and proponent of simplicity of style.

So I’m sure you’re asking why I’m dragging architecture into your dragon game right now yes? Well, quite simply the idea of less is more is a design concept that many game companies have embraced. To do more with less decreases production time, allows for a better shake down of bugs and glitches, and can free up a developer to create some very innovative game play.  One need not look much further than Braid or The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom to see what I mean here.

Blizzard it would seem has just begun to adapt to this way of thinking, at least it appears that way. You can see this in the latest build of the Cataclysm Beta. The new 31-point talent system has streamlined the talent trees by removing  bloat and overused space. What we are left with is a cleaner, albeit smaller, talent tree. A lot of the talents cut away were instead folded into the players choice in specialization, for example Earth Shield was removed as a talent and given as a core spell when a player chooses to specialize in Restoration. This design model is an attempt to do more with less. Less wasted talent space will lead to more interesting talents in the tree, as well more interesting game play for players… in theory anyways. I wrote up a more detailed breakdown of these changes on WoW.com so feel free to check it out. This is my more personal thoughts on these changes, and well… I just felt the need to keep talking about them some.

While it is still in an early beta phase, I can’t help but feel… disrupted a little bit. While I agree that some of the talents should have been moved, I’m not entirely feeling good about what was pulled out and what was put in. I agree that for restoration, Earth Shield should have been removed as a talent and made into a base spell. You will never hear me complain about that. Every resto shaman I know takes that talent, and in truth it is a very core, very iconic spell that is part of the identity of a resto shaman. If you are a restoration shaman without Earth Shield… well I just don’t even know. I am curious though as to why Mana Tide Totem was left in place though. Like ES it is a very core shaman talent and again something most if not all resto shaman take. Why not remove it as a talent and give it as a bonus for choosing the restoration specialization? That could further open up the tree and allow more space for more fun talents. From a design perspective it would make more sense to make it a base ability or a specialization bonus and open the slot for something else… maybe something like Spirit Link!

Another thing that confused me was some of the additions, Spark of Life to be exact. One of the things that Blizzard stated was that they wanted to move away from/remove talents that added passive % bonuses. Don’t get me wrong, I like the talent. Buffing the healing done to yourself has been near godly in the beta (*ahem* restoiz4tanking!) and it makes the passive heal from Healing Stream Totem nice for longevity, but I am still surprised to see it included. It does go well with Ancestral Resolve as far as that whole staying alive thing goes as well. I fully plan on using these for tanking as a healer!

Telluric Currents would be nice for leveling… if it was lower in the tree. I can’t see taking it as a dedicated healer in end game, as it is rare that I have to DPS at all and even then it is usually a flame shock followed by more healing and then a lava burst. It could be useful for soloing… maybe.

We lost a lot however. A lot of our supercharged healing is gone, and we are dreadfully low on passive crit. Some additions to the tree give us back some of the bonus healing, but no where near where it was. I understand that they want to make healing harder and more thoughtful and I am pro difficulty on that, but a shaman’s best procs all come from crit. Passively we can push 40% in a raid without trying, this helps with heals from Ancestral Awakening and helps trigger Blessing of the Eternals sure. It also is necessary for shaman mana regeneration. Improved Water Shield procs off of critical heals. The more crits you have the more likely you are to regen mana and be able to keep casting. I don’t know if you remember but there was a time not so long ago that shaman were having longevity issues. IWS was implemented to compensate for that, but by removing the passive crit, it hurts our regeneration rates. Meditation is supposed to allow for further regeneration, but the question remains if it will wind up being enough.

Along those same lines, Tidal Force is out. I really really miss this spell. It has become second nature in to pop this spell and its absence is keenly felt. When I’m healing on live I usually have a rhythm going. Like say for Valithria;

Riptide > Healing Wave > Healing Wave > Chain Heal > Tidal Force > Healing Wave > Healing Wave etc. Refreshing Riptide when off cooldown.

Now it has become

Riptide > Healing Wave > Healing Wave > Chain Heal > Look for Tidal Force *DAMNIT* Unleashed Weapon > Healing Wave > Healing Wave etc.

Throws me off quite a bit. Still getting used to it. I can see what they are doing by trimming the trees and I approve. While I may not be a staunch minimalist, I know when things have gotten bloated. The restoration tree on live definitely is bloated, and the one on the current beta could use some more pruning .

So Blizzard, keep in mind that less is more. Players have been doing creative things with very little for a while now. Just make what we have better defined and maybe move a few more things around. We don’t necessarily need a rolls-royce (although it would not be turned down!) we just need things that function well. We’ve been trotting along pretty much unchanged for a good bit, just make sure you don’t break us ok?

So what do you guys think of the changes so far? Anything you noticed you love? Hate? Anything you think they should add in?

11 thoughts on “Less is More?”

  1. Isn’t one of the things Ghostcrawler said something along the lines of “If you want crit, gear for it.” I’m not sure he made it rhyme, but still. I guess having a whole bunch of passive crit waiting for us made gearing simple (at least from a Holy Pally perspective). I think the plan is for talents to give us mechanics, while gear gives us stats.

  2. Three thoughts on architecture, before we go on:

    * Van der Rohe was a founder of Modern architecture (yes, the capital letter is important; not all modern architecture is Modern architecture, and thank God for that).

    * “Less is more” is a philosophy, not absolute truth.

    * If all of your professors were pounding “less is more” – a phrase that’s intimately and explicitly connected with Modernism – into your head, you maybe should have looked elsewhere for more diverse influences. 😉

    Roger Ebert published an extraordinary article this week on Chicago’s Modern and non-Modern architecture, “The image of a man you do not see“. I won’t rehash the entire thing here, but suffice it to say that the Modern “less is more” is simply unsatisfying to a lot of people, myself included. I like the adornment and the superfluity. And honestly – to get back to WOW – if we really adhered to “less is more”, we’d have three classes – Brick, Healer, Damage – and one ability for each – Get Attention, Restore Health, Remove Health.

    Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that they cut down the talent trees, in part because of the “less is more” philosophy that a lot of gamers take – “if it’s more than is absolutely necessary, it’s bloated and should be cut” – which I find ridiculous. To many, this seems like a much-needed trimming of the fat – but I see it as an admission that Blizzard’s design team is having trouble coming up with good variety. (That, in part, is because of the vast army of screaming toddlers on the forums, wailing and wildly over-reacting whenever anything seems even the slightest bit “unbalanced” – wait, no: “imba”, because ten god damned letters is TLDR – and so they’re cut off from the really interesting stuff.) By cutting the talent trees to 31 points, Blizzard is saying “we couldn’t figure out how to come up with 20-30 points per tree that didn’t suck and wouldn’t get us screamed at by the ravening hordes”.

    Keep in mind that I’m not in favor of over-adornment either. One must stop somewhere, and I’d probably have just as much trouble with an avant-garde game as with an ultra-minimalist one. At the same time, though, I want to feel reassured that there’s going to be some variety. The talent tree cuts really do make me worry that I’m going to wake up one day and discover that they’ve cut everything but Warrior, Priest, and Mage, and renamed them Brick, Heals, and Damage.

    Heh, one more thing – I hope you don’t feel like I’m picking on you, Joe. It’s not you I’m annoyed at, it’s the topic you brought up. 🙂

  3. I think the smaller talent trees can work, but they are FAR from being done. So, they look pretty underwhelming now, but once they are finished, I’m hoping they will be something we can enjoy. It gives you a WOW 2.0 reset that allows them to build more talents and talent tree tiers as the game goes on for another 5+ years. You’d be pretty annoyed when you hit the point where we had a hundred talent points to spend in the talent trees and we had to teach new people how to navigate that maze…

  4. I always forget to use tidal force so personally, I will not miss it (honestly the only reason i spec into it, becasue of occasional possibility of bitching from others and you know what? I think I’ll stop now, since its just taking up space)

    that said, I’m not making any plans so far, not until pre cata patch goes into effect. blizzard likes to change things up so very much, but I think their goal right now is to make healing less proccy (hence less crit) which will minimize overhealing and make spell decisions more fluid. plus with all the intellect we’re getting, i think our mana regen will be scaled of the size of our mana pools, possibly Ala holy pallies?

  5. @Chris Anthony
    Seems to me that the variety needs to come from challenging the assumption that the holy combat trinity is the way to go. All the bells and whistles in the game don’t change that core mechanic. (I’m an artist, and framing it differently, all the hyperdetailed painting in the world won’t save a figure drawing that has skewed proportions.)

    So… while I’m with you on wanting variety, I’d change the baseline rather than adding details. Similarly, it doesn’t bother me much that they are “trimming the fat” since it really doesn’t do much for the game in the first place.

    Or, more pithily, gargoyles don’t make a trailer home a better place to live. I’d rather spend the money that would be spent on that gargoyle and make the foundation of the place better. *shrug*

  6. Tesh, the problem with challenging the “holy trinity” is that they’re “holy” for a reason. I have yet to see a challenge that doesn’t devolve into brick-healer-damage. Even the upcoming Guild Wars II is falling prey to this: the developers are shouting as loud as they can that they’re going to abolish the “holy trinity”, because everybody will be able to do crowd-control (which is what tanking is), heal, and deal damage. Then they talk about how of course, some classes will have better CC than others, and some will have better healing…

    The nature of the game is such that there are three significant interactions with enemy NPCs: you deal damage to them, you control them, or you repair the damage that they’re doing. Until a game arises that has a different model of NPC interaction, the holy trinity is going to rule, because they embody the possible interactions you have.

    Incidentally, your art example is flawed because you’re walking in with the assumption that the “holy trinity” is somehow bad. It’s not intrinsically so. A better example would be “all the hyperdetailed painting in the world won’t save a painting that has the same figure drawing as the last seventeen you did.”

    Lissanna, I may be in the minority, but if I had a hundred talents per tree to choose from, I’d be – metaphorically speaking – like Scrooge McDuck in his money vault, diving in and out and having a grand old time. But then, that’s the kind of stuff I like best.

  7. I’m not liking the new trees at all, actually. When I first saw them, my thought was that they looked just like pet talents.

    There’s not even an illusion of choice when you have to spend five points to progress to the next tier, and only five points of talents are on offer in the current tier…

    Geez, what am I going to pick?

    I know most of the choice in the current trees is illusory because everyone chooses the same few builds anyway (myself included) but I feel like pruning it quite this much removes any possibility of a maverick spec or a even a suboptimal spec!

    I’d love to see something with a bit less than we have now, and a bit more than the new trees. Maybe not even more points… just more 1 point talents to add variety/choice.

  8. Everything seems to be changed so much right now it’s making my head spin :s

    I’m very familar with the whole less is more philosophy for 3D modelling to reduce in game lag and while WoW’s graphics are outdated they are still at least very user friendly for the people out there who suffer from a lack of imba computer equipment. 😀 So that’s all good and it aint that bad.

    I’m really not sure whether I am loving the talent trees or not yet but I will have to wait to taste the pudding myself 😛 The feeling is Blizzard are going backto basics for Cataclysm, trying to get back to thier roots, simplify things up a bit and get the classes how they originally intended them to be. Whether or not this actually ends up happening is another story ofc 😛

    ~*hides again*

  9. I work as a software developer myself and I have also noticed the simplification that Blizzard is attempting to accomplish with the game. However, things are slightly tricky.

    If you write software for say Enterprise, corporate use, you want to design minimally (generally speaking; Microsoft seem to be the exception with all the bloat they keep adding to their “productivity” suites, but I digress). Enterprise applications need to allow the user to do what needs to be done as fast and easily as possible. Your goal is actually to REDUCE the amount of time people spend using it. Even many games try to keep player-ui interaction as simplified as possible as well.

    MMO’s, on the other hand, revel in “depth”. They need a user of the software to spend as MUCH time as possible playing; thats how they make their money. A lot of games makers think that adding new features, stats, points-to-assign, abilities, etc, etc add to a games depth, even Blizzard. But now they seem to be moving away and simplifying things.

    Thankfully it seems to me that Blizzard are actually simplifying where it matters. Game depth matters in places such as content, raid encounters, item variability, etc. They have removed a bunch of stats (defense, ArP, etc) to simplify game balance and back-end calculations. They are redoing talent trees again to simplify balance and back-end calculations where things such as damage, healing, threat output are concerned.

    I just want to point out what might not be glaringly obvious to people. THIS IS A GOOD THING! The more Blizzard simplifies the backend work of class balances, the less maintenance they will need to do in future, which means more time free’d up designing better content, raid encounters, awesome gear and so many other things that make the game fun. In addition, they have simplified developing the new stuff without having to worry that X stat might make a certain class OP here and so on, meaning newer and better ways to play.

    I haven’t met many people that find trying to work out or research the most viable spread of stats across gear, or the best builds to make on your talent tree a fun thing. Sure, doing a bit of it is great, but the game was getting unwieldy in terms of all stats spread across items. What I DO know people find fun is raiding, questing, exploring new regions and all that other stuff.

    Its a principle called KISS; Keep It Simple, Stupid. The simpler things are the easier maintenance and developing new, fun stuff becomes.


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