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World of Warcraft Cataclysm – Launch Interview

World of Warcraft Cataclysm – Launch Interview

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So, obviously, Cataclysm is launching tonight after months of testing, how happy are you with this release?
GC: Oh, thrilled, yeah, it’s gone really smooth so far, given the huge kind of technical challenges we’ve had with replacing the continents, the digital download, the streaming client, all these changes we made.

D: It’s the most content we’ve ever launched since the game launched, and so far it’s gone really well, and we’re really excited with the response we’ve gotten so far to The Shattering, to the old world revamp. We can’t wait to see the reaction to lvl80-85 content, we’re very excited.

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What’s the one thing in this new release each of you is most happy about? And possibly, as a company, you’re most happy about? What’s the most exciting?
GC: I’d say I’m the most excited and happiest about the changes to the lower level content, the lower level experience, I think we had a game before where players were expected to put in a certain amount of time before they could start having fun, and now we’ve tried to make the level 1 experience fun. A big change was giving players the ability to choose their talent tree at level 10 and giving them a new special ability that corresponds to that talent tree choice at level 10. I think that makes a huge difference in playing, it’s fun now to go be an assasination rogue at level 10, or an elemental shaman, and really feel like you’ve made a really meaningful decision there.

D: Yeah, I absolutely agree. The level 80-85 content is some of the best content we’ve ever done. But the lvl1-60 revamp is really meaningful and it’s really going to give the game legs for a really long time. It’s just so much more playable and so much more vibrant and exciting and fun. You really get involved in the story from the very beginning and that story just carries you through from level to level. It’s a lot of fun.

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Is there any one thing you wish could’ve been in there, but didn’t make it?
GC: Uhm, let’s see, we pulled back on a feature we were going to do called path of the titans that was something we were really excited about. It got to the point where we realised that what we were really trying to do was fix the glyph system that we’d introduced with wrath of the lich king, and it felt like that never quite delivered on the promise of that, so we spent some time changing the user interface of that, changing the way that the glyphs themselves worked. We had to delay the actual path system itself that would’ve been a level 85 content that went along with the new glyph revamp.

D: There’s individual little stories and individual little bits of content that I, or we, didn’t put into specific zones, as we were trying to make our deadlines. Maybe in some future patch we’ll be able to revisit some exciting things, like actually defending the gates between Mulgore and The Barrens, do little events like that, that I really wanted to see, that we didn’t quite have time for. But overall, from my perspective, I was a quest designer, I think we hit a lot of highlights and we managed to get a lot of content in, in a short period of time, so I’m really proud of that.

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WoW is very well-known for its beta testing phases, how useful, how important, is that user feedback for you?
GC: Oh it’s huge, I mean, we play a lot, internally. Blizzard has a reputation for iteration on our design, but one of the things we do is think very carefully through every big decision that we make, of like, how is this really going to play out, how are players going to perceive this, and what weird exploits or odd behaviour are we inviting by doing this, so we think through things very carefully and then we implement them. But there’s no substitute for getting the reaction from players like, wow, this talent that we were super excited about, players will be like wow, this isn’t very fun or it’s hard to understand, or… wow, we thought this dungeon was going to be really fun to run through but it’s kind of a long painful slog(?) and players aren’t enjoying that. Or a great example just recently was: It was very fast to level up through low levels, particularly if you stopped to gather mining or herb nodes, which now give a little bit of experience, and particularly if you went into dungeons along the way, you could gain a level or two in the dungeon, which would then totally throw off the quest flow, you would go into a dungeon, come out, and all the quests would be gray for you. So we caught that based on player feedback and went in and changed that, to make sure the dungeons were still generous, but not so generous that it breaks the quest flow. Because obviously we spent all this effort redoing the quests, we didn’t want players to just skip over them.
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Out of the new zones, which one are you most pleased with?
D: I think there’s so much variety in these zones, we have an underwater zone, a zone that’s completely underground, you know, we have a lot going on, but personally, I’m the most excited about twilight highlands, it has a story for the horde and a story for the alliance, and those stories kind of intertwine. We’re introducing new factions within the factions, the Horde is getting the Dragonmaw Orcs, and the alliance is getting the wildhammer dwarves. And there’s a story to tell there, and there’s a story about the two factions fighting each other, and then there’s obviously the Twilight’s Hammer, interacting with Cho’gall and setting up the raid later on. A lot goes on and I think that story plays out really well across the zone. It’s a great capper zone, it’s the level 85 zone, I think it’s one you definitely don’t want to skip, even if you hit 85, you definitely kind of want to play through it because there’s a lot of story there, there’s a lot going on. We’re really proud of how that turned out.
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Which of the revamped original zones do you feel advances the storyline the most for the alliance and the Horde?
D: Hmmmm! Wow, you know, it’s funny, there were so many zones redone, and us as quest designers weren’t able to play through a lot of the zones that other people were doing until recently, so for me something like Western Plaguelands, I didn’t get to play until a few weeks ago, and wow there’s a great story there, it’s like a totally new zone, like the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde, and the changing of the plot and everything, so there’s still some zones I haven’t had a chance to completely play through yet, and so I’m excited because there’s so many neat things hidden in each zone. My favourite ones are the ones where the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde is coming to a head. Southern Barrens I enjoy, Stonetalon Mountains is very good. If you play through the Gilnean starting experience [Alliance, Worgen starting area -ed.], and then play through Silverpine as the Horde, you get two different versions of a story, and then it comes together, and that’s really cool. There’s gems all over the old world, it lends itself to being played again and again from both factions.

GC: I would’ve said Silverpine to Hillsbrad for the Undead areas, you really feel like a member of the Forsaken then, you encounter Sylvanas as a questgiver right away, and she takes you under her wing, and you feel very heroic even though you’re like a level 14 Forsaken character. I think that’s very good.

Ashenvale is really good, The Barrens has undergone huge changes, I think a lot of those zones didn’t have much of a story before. They were what we call the "bear-ass" quests, like, you know "go kill 10 bears", and now it actually builds to a climax, and you feel like you’ve accomplished something before you move on to the next zone.

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Of the revamped original zones, how much of that is to try and entice new players in who might’ve found them boring before, and how much is for current players to go back and enjoy them again?
GC: Wow, that’s a great question. Definitely, we do a lot of fanservice in those zones, like, we make jokes about Mankirk(sic – meant to be Mankrik -ed.)’s wife and we’ve taken NPCs and killed them, or promoted them so they now have more responsiability. We have NPCs that had gone to Northrend and in the fiction have returned from the battle there so you feel like time has advanced. That’s what we did for the old players who are coming back and rerolling alts. For the new players, we’ve made the quest flow a lot smarter. In the original World of Warcraft there was a lot of "go over to this zone, now come back, don’t travel up here!" We’ve learnt a lot about how to do questhubs, where you go to an area, do a few quests, and they send you to another area to do some more quests, and you feel like you’re making progress, and you’ll have done the whole zone by the time you’ve left rather than feeling "Gosh, did I miss something?"

D: We’re always telling a story with the old world, you’re filling out a story, getting a satisfying climax before moving on to the next zone which is very different from before. As for priority, I think that’s one of the great things about redoing the old world, that content double counted, it’s fun for the new players and it’s fun for rolling an alt, we get a lot out of that.

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In development, how did the time balance out between revamping the old world and creating the new zones?
D: The new zones had a tremendous amount of level design work, they’re all superambitious zones, you have Uldum with its Egyptian monument theme and flying cities in the sky, and Vashj’ir is completely underwater, Deepholme is basically a big cavern, so level design wise, those zones received a lot of love. I’d say on the quest design side, I don’t even know how that’d spill out. They’re pretty even. We did spend a lot more time on the lvl1-60 zones than we thought we were going to. We thought we were going to do a little of that, but the main focus of Cataclysm was going to be the new 5 zones. I say sometimes it felt like we were doing 2 expansions, one was the lvl 1-60 which was already released, and the rest was 80-85 as well as the Goblins and the Worgen.

GC: We spent months and months on the Goblin and the Worgen, we wanted to make sure that that experience, if anything else in the expansion, was the absolute best it could be, so we really took our time with those zones. The rest of the work, and there was a lot of it, I couldn’t even tell you the break down, we were sweating bullets there trying to combine the old world with the new five zones.

D: It’s thousands of new quests, and that’s not an exaggeration.

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Are you pleased that it expanded into so much more work for the original 60 first levels?
D: From a business sense it might’ve been smarter to split it into two expansions, but as a developer it’s easy to be very proud of what we’ve done because players are getting so much.

GC: I think once we got in and started changing the old world, it became obvious to us that we wanted to get it right. We didn’t want to leave it broken, "it’s broken, this is our chance to fix it, let’s get in there and do something really impressive." We put a lot more work in it than we anticipated, but I wouldn’t want to do it any different now because the end result really shines.

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When The Shattering occured, some lore was limited to the book. What was the reasoning behind not telling the story through the game?
GC: You mean some of the events like Thrall handing over the Horde and stuff like that? We really want players to feel like they’re really a part of the story, we want to be careful to not tell too much of the story through our NPCs, they’re powerful, charismatic individuals, but we don’t want to steal the spotlight from the players, so we want to make sure that the player is enacting a lot of that. The Shattering, the novel, is really set around the NPC characters.

The moment of The Shattering in the game took place after the events of the book. We want to be able to say "that is now set in place, and here, as a hero, this is what you have to do to put the world back together again."

D: We do try and involve the player as much as possible in the story, so if you played through the pre-shattering quests, that led up to the actual shattering, you got to do some things like accompany Thrall to Nagrand and see that start to play out, you got to help Garrosh defend Orgrimmar, and do a few other things. So we kind of hinted that there was a story going on and you could kind of participate in that. After the shattering, you can go around and as you explore each area, you’ll get the story of what happened in that area. I think it plays out well, even if you haven’t read the novel, you’ll be able to catch up to what’s going on.

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You’ve been wanting to make 10 and 25 player raids the same difficulty, is there any reason for people to keep doing 25 man raids? Is it your goal to make 10-player raids the standard?
GC: No, if we wanted to do that, we would’ve just done that. We talked a lot about it, we talked about "should we make 15 the new raid size, or 20? Should we just kill 25?" But at the end of the day there are a lot of us internally that prefer 25, we know there’s a lot of players who prefer 25. It feels more epic to them, it’s a way of involving more players. In some ways the 10-player raids require a lot harder decisions on the part of the raidleader to decide on who comes and goes, because there’s not a lot of room for less experienced players, or for more casual guys. But in 25, you sometimes have more room for the guy that can’t raid with you every week but really wants to come with you tonight. It’s just a different audience, in much the same way like some players prefer PvE, some prefer PvP, some like larger, harder to organise but more epic feeling raids, and some prefer the smaller but easier to organise raids.
World of Warcraft

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Stuart Davidson

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