Attumen The Huntsman: The Dangers of Neglecting Research in Game Design

Alexander Brazie

Alexander Brazie

Alexander is a game designer with 25+ years of experience in both AAA and indie studios, having worked on titles like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps. His insights and lessons from roles at Riot and Blizzard are shared through his post-mortems and game design course. You can follow him on Twitter @Xelnath or LinkedIn.

Game: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Game Element: Attumen the Huntsman, the first boss in Karazhan Raid
Discipline: Content Design

Today, we’ll explore my very first solo dungeon project and the valuable lessons I learned about the potential pitfalls of seemingly great ideas.

You’ll discover why blindly following your lead’s idea, no matter how impressive it may seem, without conducting thorough research or preparation can have adverse consequences.

Remember, you hold the responsibility for the final outcome.

So, let’s dive in to learn from my mistakes, so you don’t repeat them.

It was a warm day in May when I walked in the doors of the unlabeled entrance to Blizzard HQ, hidden deep in the heart of a school campus.

After the usual couple hours of HR paperwork and contract signing, I was brought upstairs to the WoW team floor and deposited in the middle of the hallway/meeting room where the other game designers were sitting.


They were excitedly discussing the plans they had in store for the final boss of Karazhan, a 10-man raid instance – the first of its kind for the team.

Afterwards, I was introduced to the future lead encounter designer, Scott Mercer.

Scott had worked on Starcraft as a level designer and was responsible for a ton of the itemization work that had been done in classic WoW. (See Shard of the Flame ala Ragnaros)

Recently replaced as item designer by the notoriously handsome Travis Day, Scott was now responsible for the newly formed encounter design team, which would focus on raid and dungeon bosses, as well as providing support to the quest team for outdoor spawning.

Scott didn’t expect to see me. To be honest, almost no one did – I’d been hired after a long lunch interview with the Gang of Three design leads (Pardo, Chilton and Kaplan) about a week before.

The second day, someone in IT brought up a computer for me from the QA dept and set me up inside a small office next to one of the production QA members, a friendly guy named Stuart Massie, who was responsible for collecting testing requests and writing the patch notes.

Stuart helped me setup my machine, taught me how to use the internal wiki tools and introduced me to Alex Tsang who helped me setup WoW Editor.

Then, I was off!

… but what on earth was I supposed to do? I stumbled over this question for a bit when a voice interrupted me.

“Well, hello Mr. Brazie. Let’s get you started.”


I spun around to see Scott wander in. A warm and friendly, if occasionally sardonic, guy, Scott shared my love of the Japanese language and was an expert on all things k-pop.

“So, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really expecting you already, but I’m glad to have the extra manpower. We’ve a got a lot ahead of us.”

KarazhanInstanceMap restructure scaled

Scott sketched a rough layout of Karazhan on the whiteboard behind me. It read as follows:

[Demon Island]

[Tower Top]
Demon Boss – Geoff
Nether Wyrm – ??
Chess Game – Pat

Archmage – ??
Golem – ??
Satyr Summoner – ??
Bone Dragon – ??

[Opera House]
Little Red Riding Hood – ??
Romeo and Juliet – ??
Wizard of Oz – ??

[Entry Hall]
Maiden – Joe
Butler – Joe
Horseman – Scott
Animal Bosses – ??

“We need to get all of these bosses done by the end of summer. The good news is we’ve got plenty of time to pull it off. Since you’re new, I want you to focus on learning the tool.

It’s old, its weird and it takes a long time to master.

So, I’m giving you a boss I’ve already designed and want you to focus on implementation.”

Me: “So what’s his name?”

Scott: “Attumen the Huntsman”

… and so began my life as a raid boss designer.

The Plan

I grabbed a yellow notepad and jotted down the notes Scott provided as requirements:

fiery warhorse

  • Starts out attacking the horse
  • Attumen runs in when his horse is hurt.
  • Mounts the horse when either one of them is low.
  • Horse should charge other people randomly.
  • Attumen is a ghost so he should be hard to hit sometimes.
  • Attumen should be faced away from the group, has a shadowy cleave attack.
  • Attumen should get pissed off when you disarm him.

Starting Out

Looking back, it’s a great idea to start out by implementing someone else’s idea. It lets you focus on learning the execution, rather than fretting heavily of “what” to do.

I gleefully ran around the tool, mostly confused, attempting to copy and paste various pieces of existing monsters to create Attumen.

Version 1:

Midnight was spawned as a static spawn inside of the livery.
Midnight had two abilities – charge and hoof

  Charge – rushes to the target
  Hoof – a short stun on the target.

Attumen has three abilities – shadow cleave, enrage and ghost form.
  Shadow cleave – 3 target shadow damage chain attack, jumps to 2 nearby targets.
  Enrage – when disarmed, Attumen gains bonus attack speed, bonus damage and turns red!
  Ghost form – reduces Attumen’s chance to be hit by 50%.

When one reaches 50%, both despawn and a new Attumen + Midnight creature spawns at 100% health.


So what’s the state of this design?

At first glance, this seems to satisfy the requirements of the design.

However, it has a number of issues.

Which ones can you spot?


Midnight’s design doesn’t quite work.

Charge rushes to a target, which means you want to pull Midnight off an enemy.

However, the primary target stun means it is difficult for the tank to build an hold aggro on the boss.

spell holy senseundead

Attumen’s design is incredibly frustrating. The chain attack means the tank + 2 melee characters will always be hit by the Shadow cleave.

This means there’s nothing your melee characters can do to avoid it.

When Ghost form is activated, you cannot do anything to stop it.

Furthermore, Disarm, which should help the player instead penalizes them.

Finally, there’s no reason to attack both Attumen and Midnight. When either one reaches half, a new creature spawns.

This means all threat is lost and all damage done is lost.


Iteration is the process of improving a design to achieve a goal. In the case of games, the goal is to make the experience more satisfying.

Version 2:


Midnight was spawned as a static spawn inside of the livery.
Midnight has one ability – charge and knockdown
Charge – rushes to one of the three most distant targets and fixates on them for a couple seconds.
Knockdown – knocks down the tank temporarily

Attumen has three abilities – shadow cleave, enrage and ghost form.
Shadow cleave – cone shadow damage attack
Uppercut – when disarmed, Attumen gains begins knocking up the target.
Intangible Presence – curses all nearby enemies, reducing their chance to hit for a few seconds.

When one reaches 50%, the highest health of the two transforms into the fused creature.

Preserving damage dealt and gaining the abilities of both.

What changed?

At first glance, these abilities look identical, but each one has changed its mechanics in subtle ways that allow players to iteract with them.

ability warrior charge

Charge – the choice of only a distant target means you can choose which 3 of your allies will be struck by the attack.
Charge – the addition of a fixate guarantees a certain amount of damage is dealt before the horse runs back.
Knockdown – the duration of the knockdown is much shorter than a stun, allowing for a more rapid response.

ability warrior cleave

Shadow Cleave – now a cone attack, melee dps can avoid being hit by standing behind Attumen.

– now an appropriate flavor attack, this has no actual bearing on most tanks, but retains the feeling of change when Attumen is disarmed.
Intangible Presence – now a curse, it can be removed by Mage or Druid players.

Merge – the fact that it preserves the damage taken from the other incarnation means multi-target DPS’ers such as Warlocks or Rogues now have their bonus damage preserved.

Can we do better?

Yes, yes we can. There’s a lot of issues that remain with this design (which is the one that went live). At the time, I didn’t have a process to use to analyse and detect these issues. However, I really want you, the reader to understand this.

Take my process and apply it to these two mechanics: Charge and Intangible Presence.

Midnight’s Charge:

  1. Is this ability clear?
  2. Does the player care?
  3. Does the player have a response?
  4. Is this response satisfying?
  5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?

Attumen’s Intangible Presence:

  1. Is this ability clear?
  2. Does the player care?
  3. Does the player have a response?
  4. Is this response satisfying?
  5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?

Copy and paste your answers into the comments and I’ll evaluate them.


In conclusion, my experience with designing this boss encounter taught me the importance of balancing clear guidelines from your lead with my own critical thinking.

This boss was primarily to focus on familiarizing myself with the tools rather than creating the actual fight due to being a standard beat-it-up fight.

I unintentionally created a negative feedback loop that made the fight more challenging than intended. Disarming the horseman actually increased his damage output by increasing his attack speed, and the horse’s ranged dash attack became easily exploitable by raiders.

This situation highlighted the significance of examining the given plan and anticipating potential issues.

The instruction to “pick only the three furthest” was not transparent to players, leading to initial chaos and unintended consequences.

Ultimately, the healers, in an effort to stay safe, inadvertently became the primary focus of the encounter.

Moving forward, I’ve learned the importance of considering both the instructions from design leads and critically assessing their potential implications.

Through this process, I started creating more balanced and engaging experiences for players while avoiding unintended complications.

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24 Responses

  1. One possible thing may be that there is no benefit to disarming him, making it a pointless ability to use during the fight with this implementation. Also, if people had disarms in their normal rotation (I don’t know if they did), this would mean they would have to change it up, possibly causing them to have less fun in the encounter due to being forced to change in a potentially unfun way (similar to why resists to certain schools of magic were no longer implemented in bosses after TBC).

    But I’m not sure. 🙂

    1. Yep! That’s one of them. An important philosophy to keep in mind when designing PvE content is “Let players use their buttons”. Few things suck more than when an ability is arbitrarily disabled.

  2. I’d say the shadowy cleave would not be working as intended with this implementation, as facing him away from the rest of the group doesn’t seem to make a difference if the attack just jumps to a nearby target.

    You also didn’t mention anything about how the abilities combine when in the phase 2 form – are all abilities still present? Plus since it’s a single combined creature, how does Attument reduced chance to be hit affect the horse? (from what I remember of the actual encounter, it ended up being he put a ‘+chance to miss’ debuff on players instead, didn’t he?)

    1. I started playing just before the launch of Lich King so I never did any BC raids when they were current, meaning I’ve only ever been into Kara as an overpowered 80/85, often alone or with one or two other players.

      That said, if I had to guess I’d say the charge would not persist, as it’d mean Attumidnight frequently running out of range of melee/tank players, which could get annoying.

      Regarding the questions:
      Midnight’s Charge:
      1. Is this ability clear?
      I’m a bit confused by the ‘fixate’ aspect – what exactly does it mean? The horse melee-attacks a particular player for a few seconds then knocks them over? Or vice-versa/other?

      2. Does the player care?
      Since ranged generally = caster, having a cast interrupted could be annoying, perhaps even moreso for a healer.

      3. Does the player have a response?
      Defensive CDs if they have them, I guess.

      4. Is this response satisfying?
      So long as they actually have said CDs 😉

      5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?
      IMO the charging perhaps makes less sense once the encounter enters phase 2 – Mid charging people by himself is fine, but it seems a little weird if he still does it with Att sitting on him.

      Attumen’s Intangible Presence:
      1. Is this ability clear?
      Perhaps a bit ill-named, but otherwise yeah. Unless the meaning is that it makes the player an ‘intangible presence’, which doesn’t match up with The Plan.

      2. Does the player care?
      As someone who’s solo’d Attument, damn right the player cares 😉 For a normal raid group, though, perhaps less so. That said, since it’s something that affects a player’s DPS more than something which merely damages their health (that would be someone else’s (a healer’s) problem), it’s more annoying.

      3. Does the player have a response?
      To hope the people who can remove the curse are on the ball, much like with any other removable debuff I guess. Does shouting in Vent count as a response? 😀

      4. Is this response satisfying?
      If the curse-removers are paying attention, yeah – team bonding etc. – otherwise it might have the opposite effect, since it means a player’s performance is impaired and there’s nothing they personally can do about it.

      5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?
      I’m torn on this. I mean, taken in isolation, “he’s a ghost so he’s harder to hit” makes sense, but in the wider context of the game, not so much, since it applies to so few other ghost-type enemies. Netherspite looks kinda ghostly, and he isn’t harder to hit 🙂

    2. Correct! When both creatures joined together, all of the abilities persisted except one. Do you remember which one?

    3. Already replied about Midnight’s charge below. This is a good analysis. The big part missing is that its not CLEAR AND OBVIOUS what is going on.On Attumen’s Spectral presence – it sucked. It was also too short and yet still super powerful. You correct determined that it had cross-group composition gameplay, but no individual gameplay. A better design (short of just removing the ability, it was bad) would have had a cast-time and required people to change targets for a short period of time. It really DOESN’T make sense for Attumen. He’s this big warrior dude, why is he cursing me? It was ultimately a poorly designed ability. Thanks for contributing your thoughts! I’m undecided on this myself, but I would like to know if you feel that abilities which require other people to save you are good ones?

    4. I don’t know about the “why is he cursing me?” thing – it could just as easily be rewritten to say he has a cursed sword or something 🙂

      Regarding your last question, I’m undecided too, although leaning more in favour of such abilities, especially on heroic mode, as they increase the amount of team coordination required, which I’d say is always a good thing (although perhaps not so much for LFR 😉 I guess it really depends on the mechanics of the ability – something like the valkyrs on the Lich King fight were kind of annoying in that the player who got picked up was completely helpless and there was literally nothing they could do once grabbed, and relied entirely on the other DPS to stop them dying.

      Then there’s abilities like Jaraxxus’s Incinerate Flesh, where as well as having to save the person afflicted, the healers are also trying to save the entire raid from taking heavy damage should they fail to remove the debuff. No pressure 😀

      I guess in a way this sort of thing is on the same spectrum as any kind of unavoidable damage, in that the healers are the ones who have to fix it and the DPS and tanks just have to hope those people are doing their jobs.

      As an aside, it’s very interesting thinking about this having played Guild Wars 2, where it’s almost exclusively down to each individual player to heal themselves and tank/kite bosses and trash when needed. That said, most of the encounters that the game launched with have quite simple mechanics compared to WoW raid bosses (as well as being 5-player only), though in the Fractals of the Mists dungeons added after launch, the encounters are often more complex, with mechanics where one or two players have particular jobs (e.g. dumping lava over a robot to melt its armour). It’ll be interesting to see what ArenaNet’s boss encounter designers come up with when there’s no tank/healer/dps trinity to base fights around.

    5. Awesome article. I love reading about the thought process behind game design.

      “I’m undecided on this myself, but I would like to know if you feel that abilities which require other people to save you are good ones?”

      As a healer, I’m usually ok with this concept. It enforces teamwork, and has worked well in fights like Shannox, Spine and LK. However, my team downed Tsulong the other week and I will say that I was probably the most frustrated in that fight than I’ve ever been in raiding.

      You see, in Tsulong, the boss spawns adds during the day phase. The big adds cast bolts which hit for upwards of 150k – and more often than not, these hit the healers, who are doing their best to heal the boss up to full. My team kept zoning out on interrupting these/add management, so I was dying every pull…and there was nothing I could really do to stop it, save ignore my main role and focus on spamming self heals (and even that would be tough, given how hard I was being hit).

      In fights like LK, Spine and Shannox, the necessary “save” is obvious and a core part of the encounter. It’s a fluid switch to make. In Tsulong, it’s a cast being made by one of multiple adds who are up. Heck, the cast doesn’t even really get spammed unless there’s bad juggling going on with stacking the adds before the breath. The mechanic is not as obviously a core part of the fight – there aren’t flying angels in the middle of the screen or flailing tentacles – so it’s much easier for the DPS to neglect it…which leaves us healers sitting there, getting hammered, feeling like there is nothing we can do.

      I ended up saying to my team that I felt like I was trying to heal a rated battleground. That’s how frustrated I was – maybe it’s just me, but as a healer, it’s really irritating when there is *nothing* you personally can do to avoid your own death.

      So, in my personal opinion, the “save your teammate” mechanics can be good, even great and exciting – I remember sitting at target dummies and making DPS practice to get those crits on Rageface. However, I think these need to be an integral part of the fight and visually highlighted, or else you end up with players feeling frustrated, like they are helplessly dying in a corner.

  3. (pretty sure I typed “Attumen’s” there, but it seems either Chrome or my brain is trying to open a whole other can of worms 😉

  4. You know, I’ve been punting attument down regulary since late wrath (bugger refuses to drop the horse), and I didn’t even KNOW he reduced my hit chance – or that he had a cleave.

    (this is something I really like in MoP – cleaves are clearly visible, no more guessing “does he or does he not”?)

  5. Attumen’s Intangible Presence is in itself fairly clear and it does force the players to decurse themselves if they want to kill it fast, but it is honestly not what I would have done.

    The first is that it does not fit the theme. You want him to be hard to hit once in a while, but cursing the raid doesn’t make him more of a ghost. Also, if I remember right, the AoE curse can be spell-reflected, which also doesn’t really make sense.

    It might have been better for Attumen to gain stacks of buffs that must be dispelled or spellstolen in order to be able to hit him, and his appearance can look more ghostly while buffed.

    Midnight’s Charge on the other hand is exactly what you would expect a horse to do. It is a warhorse and it is angry. However, since the ability description does not say it only charges 1 of the 3 furthest targets, everyone assumes it simply charges a random person.

    A good player might even notice his charge range is 30 yards and stand outside of that range with the appropriate talents, or perhaps observe that if it is anything like the Warrior Charge, it has a minimum dead zone of 7 yards or something, so it can also be negated by standing on his butt.

    This does fall in line with the theme, and good players will take advantage of it to avoid Charge while bad players might just heal through the damage. As I understand it, eventually every pug group that does Kara does in fact stand on his tail.

    The fixate portion forces healers to pay some attention to who gets charged and use some cooldowns on the targeted person, as well as the person being charged possibly also using some defensive abilities.

    However, the problem is the ability is completely negatable, and that makes it not very interesting since Midnight has no other abilities other than the occasional stun on the tank.

    I don’t remember anything about him enraging if he gets disarmed though – in fact I remember people saying that he SHOULD be disarmed as that weakens him significantly.

    A related problem is “unintended cleaves” when the boss suddenly turns around to cast some other ability, such as Charge…

    1. Sin, your experience with the fight is clear. Many of your points are excellent. That said, there’s a major flaw here that you haven’t called out yet. This one is a theme across all of your points, but is tricky… in fact, it is tricky to recognize here, because I laid out all of the abilities on paper.

  6. Midnight’s Charge:
    1. Is this ability clear?
    Charge has pretty clear connotations, anyone familiar common player abilities or even having a reasonable grasp on the English language will know what it entails. “Move from A to B followed by X”
    Where X is likely something bad

    2. Does the player care?
    The person who is charged might be abit put out if they are worried about their health, but otherwise not really

    3. Does the player have a response?
    Healers can heal the damage, but aside from that there isn’t really anything to respond to, the mechanic automatically nullifies itself by returning to where it was, ignoring attempts to take threat from the target.
    Melee DPS will miss out on some damage if they don’t move, but if they are too slow in moving Midnight will move back before they get in range, wasting more DPS. Casters and Ranged just need to turn around, but even the person who is charged cant do anything really because Midnight will stay on them for a fixed period anyway. Midnight will also return to the Tanks automatically, so no action is really required for them.

    4. Is this response satisfying?
    Not particularly, they have already done what they were going to do, you aren’t foiling them, you’re just following them around

    5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?
    Charging is a reasonable horsey tactic, and banging on the target is ok too, giving up and running back to where you were before is somewhat counter intuitive to what the ability is doing though

    Attumen’s Intangible Presence:
    1. Is this ability clear?
    Not especially, intangible presence makes you think it’s something that affects Attumen, like he is only half there –
    but is an externally focused spell

    2. Does the player care?
    Given the potential decrease in productivity, they would want to remove it, but there’s realistically only going to be one or two players in the raid who can actively prepare for it before it casts. Decursers need to be aware it will happen, but everyone else aside from Prot Warriors have no reason to even notice it.

    3. Does the player have a response?
    Decurses are available, though a Prot Warrior could also spell reflect it

    4. Is this response satisfying?
    For others – not really, for a Prot Warrior, it is satisfying but it is a little silly that it works – Afterall, Attumen is the one who is meant to be intangible, what exactly are you reflecting and dispelling?

    5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?
    The name makes sense, the intended ‘ghostly’ effect makes sense too and both fit the theme, but the actual mechanic it uses doesn’t really fit

    1. Very good analysis.Here’s my own answers:Midnight’s Charge1) Didn’t communicate WHO was going to be charged early enough.2) Players cared a ton! That was a full raid boss of damage on a poor clothy.3) Player who weren’t healers didn’t have a response because there wasn’t enough warning time and Midnight stunned you. 4) Consequentially, it was very unsatisfying. 5) Agree this is actually very horse-like, but not sold well enough. Imagine instead him rearing up with a cast time before attacking his target with a line-attack. Then you could move away or step away from the person being charged.

    2. That would be alot clearer alright, different but still fitting in as a ‘charge’ type action o/

      One other thing I thought of after posting… because the Charge isnt outright random, you could hypothetically respond with how you arrange your raid. If you put out a Holy Paladin, Moonkin/Tree of Life or maybe a Shaman or Hunter, you could maximise their survival chances but it is still the boss beating on a non-tank, just probably the most durable raid members outside of the tanks. It’s better than just reacting, but not really satisfying

  7. As I recall, the cleave actually went live as a “chain” attack, screwing melee. This was a major issue fixed in the live game early on in TBC. So the second iteration, or at least that component of it, actually wasn’t fixed in development.

    Anyway, a very simple boss, which fits as it’s the first one.

    1. Addendum: By “a major issue fixed early on in TBC” I mean that it seemed like _all_ the bosses screwed melee at the time, not just Attumen.

      And not like today, where ranged is always better but melee can do OK. Back in early TBC, it felt truly punitive to be melee because EVERYTHING seemed to have a 360 degree cleave.

    2. I was pretty noob back then, but yes, this often occurred and it was mostly a lack of awareness among us novice designers. 🙂

  8. Hello Alex,
    I recently stumbled upon your post and find them informative and entertaining, so much so I have read all of your posts in one sitting while taking notes. Have you published a game design book? The ones in college I have come across often seem to be mostly history lessons and not much actual talk of design.


    1. No, I have not. I find that books spend too much time setting up premise and not enough explaining steps or philosophy.

  9. Midnight’s Charge…
    I don’t like this ability, here’s why.

    First, assume that Charge does enough damage to kill a clothie, say your priest, who will most likely be one of the distant players. If Midnight charges and kills the priest due to a lack of reaction time from the other healer(s), the raid will likely wipe (given that this is 10 man). How many times will they have to repeat this process to finally learn that Charge targets distant players? There are no other clues, and any clues you could give would be tacky (text in middle of screen) or require extra work (Attumen saying something like “Get the ones over there!”) better diverted to something else. You are FORCING the raid to wipe an annoying number of times to learn this mechanic, rather than giving them the potential to learn the encounter on the fly(unless they have another healer with good reflexes).

    Second, assume Charge does NOT do enough damage to kill a clothie. This isn’t really an interesting mechanic. All it does is require a healer to divert his attention away from his main task at some point during the fight, with no sense of urgency.

    I see three solutions. One, do not use this ability and replace it with a more interesting mechanic. Two, increase the duration time of charge while decreasing the DoT to give other healers a better window to react. Three, keep the ability but provide some starting animation where Midnight rears up or something. I like the third option the best because it requires more skill on the part of the healers (they have to pay attention to Midnight’s visual cues). However, it requires more work on the part of the animators. If the work is trivial go with three, otherwise two. Also note that it may take one wipe to learn about the “rearing” cue, but this is better than many, and truly skilled players who can learn and react on the fly will feel good about reacting correctly the first time.

    Other than that yes it’s a horse, they charge blah blah it fits thematically and makes sense blah blah.

    Attumen’s Intangible Presence:
    Does this have spellcast time or is this an instant? If the former, I like this. As long as Attumen is stationary during the cast, it gives melee something to pay attention to do during the fight (running away at right time) so they can maximize dps. It should be designed so that the cast time < the time the debuff lasts, so that the the tank loses more threat from getting the debuff than from running away (rewarded for getting out of range, more fun for him). Also forces casters to pay attention to threat. This also means it shouldn’t be possible for the boss to Knockdown then immediately cast Intangible Presence.

    If the latter, there should be some way to remove the debuff. An unavoidable debuff that makes you incapable of doing anything is annoying and not fun. It shouldn’t be dispellable since if we are following what I said earlier, healers are already focused on the charge mechanic. This means adding a new mechanic for debuff removal. This could be a variety of things, but I think the most elegant and fun (yay for both) solution is to give it a reasonable cast time. This gives everyone something to do in the fight besides their normal role.

    Other than that yes it’s a ghost, boo they’re scary and curse you blah blah it fits thematically and makes sense blah blah.

    In both cases I would have to see the animations for those iterations to answer the less mechanical questions.

    1. Thanks. Btw I really like this postmortem format. Too many game design discussions fail to provide concrete examples, and when they do it’s usually a shallow look at multiple examples rather than an in-depth look at a single one.

      The argument against this is that more closely examining and/or critiquing a system’s design requires intimate knowledge of the system itself (in this case the rules of the game). However, it’s a designer’s job not only to design new systems, but to quickly understand and improve upon existing ones. This gets easier as the designer progresses since he can more easily create isomorphisms between new systems and systems he has already learned, and if enough individuals share these isomorphisms they turn into a “design language”.

      For example, the summation of air drag, acceleration, deceleration, gravity, variable jump height, platform hit box extension, etc. have combined into the overall notion of “game feel” for platformers. And if I talk to a programmer and/or designer of a platformer I expect them to understand this abstraction so that we can discuss it without saying all of those words every time (though eventually we have to delve into the specifics).

      Anyway, to get to this point we have to exercise the muscle. And exercising this muscle makes us better at designing new systems since we can, consciously or subconsciously, draw upon all of this accumulated understanding.

      tldr; experience is important. But I’m preaching to the choir…

      If you keep doing these keep the “Can we do better” section!

    2. Good job! Both of these are the right answers. They were poorly designed abilities implemented by a novice game designer. 🙂

  10. Well, think I’ll take a stab at this. I have little experience with WoW, so hopefully I haven’t misinterpreted anything. Avoiding reading the other comments for now.

    Midnight’s Charge:

    1. Is this ability clear?

    Giant horse is charging at you, should probably be worried, is pretty easy to understand. Not sure what fixates on target means, does it attack that target? So long as it does something bad to you then the ability would be pretty clear.

    The 3 most distant targets part is less clear. After seeing it a few times it should be obvious it is targeting the back line, but realizing it is based on distance would be tricky, especially if it is randomly focusing one of the three possible targets. Their is no clear indication that distance is a factor that can be manipulated by the players for advantage.

    2. Does the player care?

    If the horse is targeting you or an ally, you would probably care. Assuming it is a significant enough threat, the party would need to react in order to protect that member. If you know how it chooses targets, you can position to protect the most vulnerable party members (by having them stand closer to the horse, oddly enough).

    3. Does the player have a response?

    It doesn’t sound like the charge can be dodged, so not particularly. Your allies can respond to help that person, but the target has few options. The way the horse chooses the target is a bit hard to figure out and has a random aspect, making it hard to plan around.

    4. Is this response satisfying?

    Not being able to respond to a giant horse charging at you kind of sucks. Helping an ally who is in trouble should feel satisfying. Their doesn’t seem to be enough benefit for figuring out the manner it chooses targets to be worth the effort.

    5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?

    A horse charging someone fits nicely. Seems to be a pretty simple theme. Not much more to say really.

    Attumen’s Intangible Presence:
    1. Is this ability clear?

    Should be pretty simple to understand. Would need some sort of delay to allow players to avoid it, or respond in some way.

    2. Does the player care?

    Melee’s would lose out on damage while support would need to remove the debuff. Ranged damage dealers would likely not care, though not sure that matters much. If it is only a few seconds, would it even be worth trying to avoid though?

    3. Does the player have a response?

    If it can be dodged, then yes, if not, then no. Either way it can at least be removed, but melee characters should have some sort of response.

    4. Is this response satisfying?

    I wonder if a few second debuff is crippling enough to be worth the few seconds spent dodging it.

    5. Does this make sense in this situation and fit the theme?

    Ghost curses you, seems logical enough. Pretty heavily punishes melee champions, but so long as they can avoid it that seems fine.

    An interesting exercise. Now time to read the other comments to see how badly I mangled it. 🙂

The Funsmith Tavern

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[STUDIO] Blizzard Entertainment: Content, mechanics, and systems designer

(Creator of Apex Legends & former Creative Director at Respawn)

[GAME] World of Warcraft: MMORPG with 8.5 million average monthly players, won Gamer’s Choice Award – Fan Favorite MMORPG, VGX Award for Best PC Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Video Game.

  • Classic:
    • Designed Cosmos UI
    • Designed part of Raid Team for Naxxramas
  • Burning Crusade:
    • Designed the raid bosses Karazhan, Black Temple, Zul’Aman
    • Designed the Outlands content
    • Designed The Underbog including bosses:
      • Hungarfen, Ghaz’an, Swamplord Musel’ik, and The Black Stalker
    • Designed the Hellfire Ramparts final bosses Nazan & Vazruden
    • Designed the Return to Karazhan bosses: Attumen the Huntsman, Big Bad Wolf, Shades of Aran, Netherspite, Nightbane
  • Wrath of the Lich King:
    • Designed quest content, events and PvP areas of Wintergrasp
    • Designed Vehicle system
    • Designed the Death Knight talent trees
    • Designed the Lord Marrowgar raid
  • Cataclysm:
    • Designed quest content
    • Designed Deathwing Overworld encounters
    • Designed Morchok and Rhyolith raid fights
  • Mists of Pandaria: 
    • Overhauled the entire Warlock class – Best player rated version through all expansion packs
    • Designed pet battle combat engine and scripted client scene

[GAME] StarCraft 2: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Diablo 3: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Overwatch: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Hearthstone: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[STUDIO] Riot Games: Systems designer, in-studio game design instructor

(Former Global Communications Lead for League of Legends)
(Former Technical Game Designer at Riot Games)

[GAME] League of Legends: Team-based strategy MOBA with 152 million average active monthly players, won The Game Award for Best Esports Game and BAFTA Best Persistent Game Award.

  • Redesigned Xerath Champion by interfacing with community
  • Reworked the support income system for season 4
  • Redesigned the Ward system
  • Assisted in development of new trinket system
  • Heavily expanded internal tools and features for design team
  • Improved UI indicators to improve clarity of allied behaviour

[OTHER GAMES] Under NDA: Developed multiple unreleased projects in R&D

Game Design Instructor: Coached and mentored associate designers on gameplay and mechanics

[STUDIO] Moon Studios: Senior game designer

(Former Lead Game Designer at Moon Studios)

[GAME] Ori & The Will of The Wisps: 2m total players (423k people finished it) with average 92.8/100 ratings by 23 top game rating sites (including Steam and Nintendo Switch).

  • Designed the weapon and Shard systems
  • Worked on combat balance
  • Designed most of the User Interface

[GAME] Unreleased RPG project

  • Designed core combat
  • High-level design content planning
  • Game systems design
  • Game design documentation
  • Gameplay systems engineering
  • Tools design
  • Photon Quantum implementation of gameplay

[VC FUNDED STARTUP] SnackPass: Social food ordering platform with 500k active users $400m+ valuation

[PROJECT] Tochi: Creative director (hybrid of game design, production and leading the product team)

  • Lead artists, engineers, and animators on the release the gamification system to incentivize long-term customers with social bonds and a shared experience through the app

[CONSULTING] Atomech: Founder / Game Design Consultant

[STUDIOS] Studio Pixanoh + 13 other indie game studios (under NDA):

  • Helped build, train and establish the design teams
  • Established unique combat niche and overall design philosophy
  • Tracked quality, consistency and feedback methods
  • Established company meeting structure and culture

Game Design Keynotes:

(Former Global Head of HR for Wargaming and Riot Games)
  • Tencent Studio
  • Wargaming
  • USC (University of Southern California)
  • RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • US AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association)
  • UFIEA (University of Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
  • West Gaming Foundation
  • Kyoto Computer Gakuin – Kyoto, Japan