Finding the Golden Nuggets: How to Prioritize Ideas for Shades of Aran

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: Shades of Aran, a boss in Karazhan
Discipline: Content Design

This is part 2 of my 3-part series on The Shade of Aran. You can see part 1 (here).

As designers, it is our responsibility to gather a wide range of ideas, concepts, and inspirations, and then meticulously sift through them to identify the gems that hold the most potential.

You’ll have to develop a filtering process when collecting ideas.

So let’s see how I prioritized and filtered the ideas I collected from my colleagues.

Meeting Time

Jeff, Scott and I met up in the common area outside of the offices.

A rare picture inside Blizzard HQ. Thanks Terrie D.

At Blizzard, everyone shared an office with one person, except the design leads, animators and producers who had offices which was shared between four people each.

In the center, a set of blue chairs with folding arms like something out of a college classroom were arranged in a circle.

This was where the meetings were held amongst designers.

As it was explained to me, we met there so that anyone who passed by could hear what we were planning out as a group and that the direction of the game wasn’t being mysteriously plotted out in secret.

Jeff brought Scott along and the three of us sat down in the middle.

I pulled out my 3 sketches, then after a quick summary from Scott, I rolled into my pitch.

Me: So, the goal is for Shade of Aran to be the ultimate mage. In order to really sell, that, I wanted to give Shade of Aran basically three modes:

  1. Frost
  2. Fire
  3. Arcane

I could see Jeff’s eyes go wide and anxious, making an already nervous me even more frantic. I pushed on anyways. 

Me: During each of these modes, he’ll do one of three super attacks. I held out my drawings. 

Me: During the Frost super, he’ll make a Blizzard move around the room in a circle

imgres-2Jeff: *looked at Scott* … Can we even do that?

Scott: *shrugged*

Me: Then, during Arcane mode, he’ll suck everyone into the middle of the room, then begin to channel a huge arcane explosion.

You need to run away.

Jeff: *nodded* That makes sense.

Scott: That room isn’t very big though, how will you make it a challenge?

Me: Uhm, if the room is too small, I can just cast a Slow spell on everyone during the teleport to the middle.

Me: If he’s in Fire mode, he’ll put a circle of fire on the ground and if you walk through the circle of fire, you deal damage to your allies and get knocked up into the air.

Scott: What does he do the rest of the time?

Me:  Well, because he’s a mage, I figured he could cast Fireball, Frostbolt, or Arcane Missiles based on his mode.

Then because standing in one place is boring, he can blink around the room from time to time to keep you moving.

Scott: Is that it…?

Jeff: This seems fine. Maybe you can throw a CC in there or something to mix it up. Alright, great.

I’m relieved, I thought this was going to be much more convoluted. Cool, I have to run to talk to the Starcraft 2 team.

Scott, can you take it from here?

Scott:  Sure. *he turned to me*  Have you talked these ideas through with anyone else yet?

Me: No, I just scratched this stuff down half an hour ago.

Scott: Alright, well, go talk to Geoff to see if these things are even possible.

Maybe check in with Kevin Jordan too – I promised you’d go around and ask people for ideas, so please do.

Me:  Oh, of course.

Scott: Great… and also… how did you think of Mages and not think of Jaina and her Water Elementals?  images

Me: Hmmm… I dunno, didn’t seem as connected to the player fantasy of being a mage.

Scott: Well, as a Mage main, I assure you, they are.

Me: Okay, I’ll keep it in mind!

Relief and Communication

Relieved that everything had gone OK with my first meeting with the lead designer, I trundled around the office, talking to each designer.

Me: Hey, I am working on a raid boss that’s supposed to be the “Ultimate Mage”. Do you have any ideas you’d like to see?

Joe Shely: I dunno, I think your abilities are pretty good too – but what will you do during the Blizzard phase from keeping everyone from standing in the middle.

You should put a counterspell or something to force healers and casters to stand back.

Me:  (same question)

Eric Dodds: Hmm… you know, now that you mention it, I don’t but I bet Kevin Jordan does.

If you ever make an engineer though, let me know, cuz I’ve got a ton of ideas I’d love to see there.

Kevin Jordan:  You want old mage spells?

We deleted most of them… oh, but I think there’s still the Chains of Ice spell lying around.

Maybe you can use that.

Stephen Pierce: It would be pretty rad if he polymorphed people.

Geoff Goodman: It would be even better if he polymorphed everyone and drank, hahahaha. (This was a common mage tactic in classic wow.)

Eric Maloof: What if he summoned a dragon? Then it could breathe on you.

A.A.: It would be awesome if he noticed that you’re carrying around his son’s staff if you picked it up in Naxxramas.

Your coworkers, be they designers, artists, engineers or the secretary at the front desk are an excellent source of raw ideas.

Processing Ideas

Ideas and feedback coming from a lot of places give you the seeds of many ideas. Filtering down those ideas is then your task as a designer.

Decide which ones are best, figure out when to use them, why NOT to use them and generally look for the biggest possible moments in the game.

  • Fire/Frost/Arcane Supers
  • Counterspell
  • Chains of Ice
  • Polymorph
  • Dragon’s Breath
  • Water Elementals
  • Drinking Water

The First/Frost/Arcane theme was strong… and three of the abilities suggested were CC:

  • Chains of Ice
  • Dragon’s Breath
  • Polymorph

How convenient. So I lined up all of the abilities in a chart:


  • DD: Arcane Missiles:
  • Super: Explosion
  • CC: Polymorph


  • DD: Fireball
  • Super: Flame Wreathe
  • CC: Dragon’s Breath


  • DD: Frost Bolt
  • Super: Circular Blizzard
  • CC: Chains of Ice

This looked pretty good on paper!

Also, the rest of the ideas: water elementals, drinking water… they were fun and amusing to me, but they seemed like overkill.

Or so I thought until playtesting began…

Continue to Part 3


I brought together a lot of ideas to create an awesome fight.

I was very ecstatic about it, so I ended up putting too many of the ideas in all at once.

It’s probably not necessary to get every designer’s feedback and ideas for a single boss fight.

However, this is a good way to meet the team and make them feel welcome talking to you.

This will pay you dividends down the road.

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3 Responses

  1. Shade of Aran was and still is my favorite boss in the entire game, loved everything about it, the mechanics, the voice acting, the whole feel to it.

    Thank you for the experience you and others made possible and for the posts, it’s a blast reading all these!
    Hope to see more!

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