Updated Sat, Mar 08, 2008 by Ethec
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
August 11, 2006
Ten Ton Hammer journeyed to downtown Manhattan to learn the latest about World of Warcraft's first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Though the Pokemon festival across the street in Bryant Park called to me (or was it the troupe of very eligible faux geisha girls), I decided that - in the name of games journalism, I must meet with Shon Damron, Blizzard PR man, and Jeff Kaplan, Lead Designer, two first-class gentlemen who were about to show me the next big step for (arguably, but not for long) the most successful computer game of all time.
For those of you who have diligently followed the expansion news ever since it was a twinkle in Blizzard's eye, read on! Blizz had more than a few surprises in store, especially with regards to PvP and raid changes.
The most apparent expansion feature - if not necessarily the most anticipated (with the mass of players currently straining at the level 60 cap) - are the two new races, Blood Elf and Draenei. We confirmed that the two races will have a "super newbie" level 1-5 area, a 1-10 region bordering the racial city, and a level 10-20 area just like every other race in the game. Blizzard's latest announcement - making the Paladin class available to the Horde and Shaman to the Alliance - seems to apply to the two new races only. Though this wasn't explicitly stated, Kaplan referred to the new cross-faction classes as Blood Elf Paladin and Draenei Shaman.
First up: Silvermoon City, home of the Blood Elves. Much of this area was shown at an earlier stage of development at E3 2006 - Jeff Kaplan explained that Blizzard is big on making "iterative passes", a designer buzzword meaning that, instead of entirely planning out an area and then creating it in-game wholesale, Blizzard likes to get a bare-bones structure in place so artists and designers can get a feel for the space they'll work in, then evolve that framework pass by pass. Shon Damron showed us around the city full of pastel colors and surreal structures as Kaplan explained how Blizzard works to make the architecture fit the race."The Blood Elves are very vain, very decadent, very pompous... and all of that is trying to be conveyed in the architecture" - which indeed ranges from opulent to garish. With a nod to another characteristic of the Blood Elves - their fixation on the arcane- a magical street broom swept by in the background, not held by any hand.
|Silvermoon at Night|
Damron then busted out the Blood Elf /dance - an authentic frame-by-frame adaptation of Napoleon Dynamite's memorable moves. We saw it at E3, but can you ever get enough? Kaplan shook his head at the mad genius of Blizzard animators and artists, a thought perpetuated by the newly minted Blood Elf character customization options. Apparently one of the Blizzard artists is quite fond of Jane Fonda (har har) and incorporated her memorable hairstylings from movies like "Barbarella" into the Blood Elf coiffure customizations. Notwithstanding my dad's Vietnam vet status (I'm rolling Draenei!), I find myself glad for an MMORPG that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Speaking of Draenei, Damron took us to the crash site of the Draenei's "trans-dimensional fortress" for the next demo segment. A 5-second explanation of lore is needed. After being chased all over the universe by the "Borg" of the Warcraft story- the Burning Legion- the Draenei crash-landed on Azeroth. Most of the ship landed intact, thus laying the groundwork for the Dranei starting city - the crystalline splendor of which we had the pleasure of seeing for the first time. Though the city was not quite as developed as its Blood Elf counterpart, the zone definitely had the feel of a post-crisis crash site. Kaplan explained that the newbie experience revolves around correcting some of the consequences of the crash landing - e.g. cutting down the population of animals gone crazy from drinking from a pond contaminated by an engine core fragment.
|The Draenei in Exodar|
Regarding the "Inspiring Presence" racial ability (which offers a 1% chance to hit when grouped with a Draenei), Kaplan stated that "in the name of balance, it currently doesn't stack, you know, get 40 Dranei together in a group!... but there are some members of the development staff that are arguing for it to stack, so they might win out in the end.
Oh, the /dance for the Draenei? Some Irish step dancing (a la "Riverdance") that would make even Michael Flatley laugh.