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WoW Lead Producer J. Allen Brack discusses Cataclysm

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Ten Ton Hammer and a number of fansites and community representatives were invited to a Blizzard press conference with J. Allen Brack, Lead Producer on World of Warcraft. We had a chance to voice a few questions from our WoW community as Brack touched on a number of hotbutton and general interest topics for WoW players.

In addition to the standard questions about lore, raid difficulty, the Warcraft movie, of particular interest were Brack's responses regarding the mood inside the studio after news of Cataclysm leaked out weeks before BlizzCon, level 80 accounts sold and "laundered" by a Battle.net merge, and why levels 1-5 weren't playable for Worgen and Goblin characters at BlizzCon.

What follows is a word for word transcript of the WoW-related questions from the press conference. Questions are in bold, responses in regular type, and we've tried to credit the person asking the questions where they stated their name and site with the question. Other questions came from the other 20 or so press and community reps present.


(Bill from WoW-Achievements) - Most of my viewers want to know about guild housing and if that would ever be implemented.

Allen Brack - That is something that we talk about, we did talk about it with this expansion. We’re kind of figuring out what the feature list was going to be; we did talk about it last expansion. So, never say never in an online game, but currently it’s not part of the plan for Cataclysm.

Would you be interested in doing something for the iPhone? Would that be something that’s exciting to you?

Yes! We just released the WoW Armory on iPhone. I think it’s natural to think about what other cool things we could do to connect the games with their phones, I think that’s awesome. We’re not currently planning on doing iPhone games - we think that’s its own kind of market. We have a team dedicated to the phone, but our game team is focused on our other games. But I’m not saying it would never happen.

WoW Lead Producer J. Allen Brack takes questions at the BlizzCon press conference.

(Jason Bolton - Ten Ton Hammer) Do you have it storyboarded out or planned out a final level cap for the game? An ending point?

Not in any way, at all. We’re very much a team that does something and learns from it. We did some stuff with Ulduar that helped inform some of the decisions we made for 3.2. I’m sure that’s going to happen with 3.3 as well, and that’s going to happen for Cataclysm. Someone asked me earlier if the reason why we did 5 levels because level 100 is the final cap; did we want to slow that down. We’ve never had a discussion like that.

So in the future, if the game goes to 100, 100 is a very large number, it’s double what the game was when it started. Are there any plans to start at level 55 or 60, so that when you’re starting out, you don’t have 100 levels to go.

That is something that we’ve talked about. One thing to mention is that although 100 is a very high number, we don’t really want the amount of time it takes for you to get to max level to change dramatically. We are on record as saying that the amount of time it took you to get to level 60, that’s the amount of time it takes you to get to level 70, same amount of time it takes you to get to level 80 and then some future level cap. The amount of leveling time we don’t want to change, so we’ll make it faster as we go along.

On the same note, could there be expansions in the future where there’s no level cap raise?

Sure, we could definitely do that. We could make an expansion that didn’t have a level cap. That’s highly theoretical and nothing we could talk about, but I think we could definitely do that.

The main boss in Burning Crusade was Illidan, Arthas is the end boss for Wrath of the Lich King. Will there be another boss between Arthas and Deathwing in Cataclysm?

We’re not going to make another end boss. We may do something. But the Lich King is the boss of Wrath of the Lich King. (laughter) His name’s in the title. Similarly, Deathwing will be the final boss of Cataclysm. There may be other things that come up that we do, but as for giant content patches, he’s the last boss.

Will any content updates come between now and Icecrown Citadel?

No, the next content patch we’re going to do is Icecrown Citadel. It’s going to have the 5-man dungeons, the 10- and 25- person raid for Arthas, and that’s the last content patch of that magnitude. There might be another small thing.

What would you say to players who don’t think there’s enough content planned before Cataclysm?

What if we released Cataclysm tomorrow? (laughter) I’m just saying that players have no idea when Cataclysm is coming out, so they don’t know how much content is available or is not available.

So...?

No! (laughter) Come on!

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Can you tell us more about your plans for World of Warcraft in China?

So we actually have an office in China that is Blizzard China, strangely enough. And we’re interested in growing that office. We’re interested in engaging the Chinese community more. We have a new partner in China called NetEase, which we’re really excited about. So yea, we’re going to start to do a better job over there.

Right now our plan is to get Burning Crusade finished out in China and then move on to Wrath of the Lich King, so that’s what we’re focused on.

Right now, with regards to Battle.net, if you own WoW before you link it up with the other games, and you link it to Battle.net, it changes all the information on the game to match that to Battle.net. This makes it easier to purchase accounts in your own name. Is there anything you plan to do to prevent the purchase of level 80s from happening and making the game a little more safer?

That’s actually a tricky question. We talked about that a great deal; we talked about the rules for merging your WoW account to a Battle.net account. We boiled it down to two choices, we could go the soft way (which is the way we ended up going), or we could go the hard way, which basically meant that if you’re a player that is not currently playing on your account, you would not be able to merge your account without great pain. And our decision was to let players play. That’s a consequence of that. We think that the backup features set is strong enough that its going to discourage a lot of that type of thing that goes on right now. At the time it seemed like the right decision and today it still seems like the right decision. Because many of you (and I won’t take a poll) are probably playing on accounts that do not have your last name, right? Or you know people who are.

When will you guys update the WoW character models? Or is that not going to happen?

That’s actually something that we’ve talked about a lot recently. Particularly as we start on the next set of races. The blood elf, the draenei, the worgen, and the goblin look a lot better than the old human. So that’s something that may or may not happen in Cataclysm. One of our approaches to graphical changes is that we do small graphical changes because as soon as we do that, we’ll have a slew of comments about ‘these aren’t as good as the old ones’ and blah blah blah. So we had to take that into account as well. One thing we’ve talked about is having an option where you can decide if you want the new models or not.

Now that we have rated battlegrounds, which are more casual friendly, do you see arena PvP returning to how hardcore it was with Burning Crusade?

I actually think that Burning Crusade arenas were far more casual than Wrath of the Lich King. In the Burning Crusade arenas, people just ended up creating a team to get welfare epics; that was sort of the rise of welfare epics. I actually think that the Wrath of the Lich King arenas are far more hardcore. The number of people we have participating in arenas today is substantially less than we had in Burning Crusade, and that’s directly related to how our matchmaking is so much better, so you can’t create a team and immediately start face-rolling people.

Whenever you play, within a few games, you’ll be playing against teams that are as good or as competitive as you are. In my case, after I’ve lost a few games, then eventually I’m going to be playing against teams that are crappy enough that I can beat them half the time. That’s the philsophy for matchmaking, that you should win about half the time.

Now that Battle.net is going to allow players to charge for StarCraft 2 mods, why can’t we charge for WoW addons?

I’ll never say that we’re never going to do that. I think one of the ideas right now is that we have a way for mods to work, and changing that way is not simple. It’s not simple. And it has a certain obligation on our part that those mods are of a certain quality and are not doing bad things. That’s not something we’ve ever done before, so we may or may not do it, but right now it’s not something that we’re working on.

Are you happy with the difficulty of raid content in Wrath of the Lich King? Did you expect it to be cleared three days after launch?

People say C’thun’s too easy. I don’t think that that’s a new comment. I think we feel pretty good about how Naxxramas turned out. One thing that we learned from Naxxramas and that we implemented to some degree in Ulduar that we’ll be doing even more of is our Heroic stuff. We like the idea of having a more friendly mode called normal mode, and then having a soulcrushing heroic mode that players can go through and really feel like they’re awesome. Because they are awesome.

That’s sort of the direction that we’re going; it’s to stratify it a little more and have the 10-person normal, the 10-person heroic, the 25-person normal, and the 25-person heroic for every single boss. That’s the lesson of Ulduar, people really like the hard modes, they like having the choice of doing it both ways.

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The announcement of Cataclysm wasn’t exactly a surprise for anyone who follows sites such as ours. How did the studio react to the leak? How did it go over internally, and what if anything is going to change in reaction to the leak?

I think we went through the five stages of grief. We had white-hot rage where fire shot from our eyes and we were just like, so angry, and then as time went on and the day went on and the weekend came then Monday rolled around, we sort-of transitioned into, you know, people are just really excited about it. It shows excitement for the game, and that’s just awesome. It’s a high-class problem, it’s something that we like to have. But it’s hard not to have that initial irritation about it.

Maybe fire shooting from our eyes was an exaggeration. Okay, fire shot from our eyes, there was a lot of cursing and swearing and ‘I’m gonna get...’ type things.

Did you find out who leaked the news?

We can’t comment about an ongoing investigation. (laughter) We had fantasies about holding certain individuals up and having Mike Morhaime congratulate them on being the first person that Blizzard publicly fired. (laughter) They’re fantasies - they’re never going to happen. It’s hard to work on something and build up a surprise and want to have just this awesome reveal. Jay [Wilson] was fortunate enough to be able to do that with Diablo 3 when we did WWI in France, and it was such an awesome experience for the fans, drove them completely crazy. But the reality was that the fans still went completely crazy, so it’s not a big deal. And by the time BlizzCon rolled around, we were ready to go.

Pertaining to lore, how closely related are the WoW novels and the upcoming WoW movie?

The script is actually not finished for the Warcraft movie, so I can’t comment on that. The good is for it to be a great story first, and a great experience that you enjoy, and be consistent with what’s going on.

So we won’t have to read up to know what’s going on in the movie?

The goal is for it to be a great movie and that you can, as a fan, sit down and really enjoy it. And you can bring along your friends who haven’t experienced Warcraft and they can enjoy it. This sounds cliché, but Peter Jackson did a fantastic job of doing something great and doing a huge service for the fans of Lord of the Rings, but if you had never read Lord of the Rings, you just saw some damn good movies.

What role will the new Tirisfal Council play in Cataclysm?

That’s a great question, and I’m sorry to say I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if we’ve talked about the Council of Tirisfal and how it’s going to come together. The big rival council is going to be Twilight’s Hammer, which is owned by Deathwing and carries out Deathwing’s deeds, so we’re spending a lot of time doing that culture kit and what his plans are.

Have you had a chance to get some player impressions of Cataclysm?

I actually haven’t seen as much of people playing the new experiences as I would have liked. The stuff that I have seen, it’s been interesting the number of people that have gone ahead and chosen worgen over goblin. That’s something that’s understandable, we knew that we did a good job with the worgen and that it would be something that’s very appealing to people. I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say that, ‘You’re going to force me to play Alliance now, you dirty bastard.’ Sorry about that.

I think the worgen has an instant appeal for a lot of the people, it’s a big part of the culture, people have much more of an association with the worgen than the goblin. But the 1-5 goblin experience we have is awesome, I think you’ll really enjoy it. The problem will solve itself. This is the first year we’ve had feedback stations after the demo, and I’m really anxious to get back and read what the players had to say.

That leads to the next question. Both goblins and worgen start at level 6. Are you talking about what the first five levels are going to be like?

Brack - We know what the first five levels are going to be. The reason we started you at level 6 for goblin is because level 1-5 wasn’t done, and we really wanted to have both experiences playable at BlizzCon. On the worgen side, you start out as a human. You go through this experience where you’re affected by the curse, so you actually unlock your worgen form. That was something that we felt like: it’s a great experience, but probably not a great BlizzCon experience. When you sit down and you want to play the worgen and you look like just another human. Maybe it’s a bit of a letdown. But we have extensive plans for 1-5, we just weren’t ready to show it to you.

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EverQuest just hit its 10 year anniversary back in March, and this November WoW will be halfway there. Where do you see WoW 10 years after launch?

I’m having déjà vu , did I talk about WoW 2 already? So many people asked me about WoW 2 today. It was like bizzarro world - why would we even talk about something like that? Contrary to the perception of how we do things, we’re working on really only two things at one time on the WoW team. We’ve got the current patch, and maybe we’ll have multiple patches that we’re working on, but pretty much one expansion that we’re working on (in this case, Lich King), and then the next expansion (Cataclysm). That’s about as far as we look ahead.

For us to look much farther ahead is not a good use of our time, because we’re going to be so much smarter when it’s time for us to start thinking of that stuff. We had a lot of ideas for Wrath of the Lich King in terms of what actually became Wrath of the Lich King that were not going to Northrend. We eventually decided that going to Northrend is the right decision after Burning Crusade so that’s what we’re going to do.

Similarly, with Cataclysm, we brought up a lot of those old ideas and said ‘hey, what about these old ideas that we talked about before?’ And we even thought that we were going to do one of them this time, but we ended up not doing it. So doing five more years of pre-planning is not too useful because I’m going to be so much smarter tomorrow than I am today. As a smarter person tomorrow, I can make better decisions about the game.

So [Chris] Metzen isn’t sitting on 5,000 pages of documents?

Man, I know that you guys think that he’s in a room with a light and he sits like this [puts face in hands] and he’s got a book and he’ll pick up the pen once in a while and then he’ll just go back. And then someone will come and get him coffee. And someone will come and take the pages away and say, ‘ hey, we’ve got the new...’ (laughter) It doesn’t work that way.

To be fair to his question, you do have some idea where the game’s going to go though?

Ok, to be fair, I wasn’t going to talk about this, but we do have plans for the zerg to invade. (laughter) And that’s after Tyrael comes through in the portal on the prime material plane of Azeroth. That’s after Outland has crashed into Azeroth.

That’s a story.

Brack - I really have no idea. Anything I say would just be stuff I’m pulling out of my ass, kind of like the stuff I just told you.

Will players be able to play the old content once Cataclysm comes out?

Deathwing is the impetus behind the Cataclysm, so this is not something that happens slowly. It happens instantaneously. So whenever that happens and you log in, you’ll be in the post-Cataclysm world. The old world will go away.

Part of the motivation for Cataclysm is to bring up the quality level of the 20-60 experience. That’s one of the motivating things behind this decision. Given that, it really doesn’t make sense to have you going back to do stuff that is so bad that we actually want to go back and revise it.

[Jason "Medawky" Bolton - Ten Ton Hammer] Many players saw WoW as primarily a PvP game at launch. With the guild achievements system and rated battlegrounds, are you trying to inject more PvP back into the game?

The point for the guild system is just to enable you to play with your friends more. Players love achievements - I don’t mean achievements like the system, I mean achievements like achieving things. They love goals, and the achievement system is just a checklist of things you can go out and do. The point of that is shared goals that you can go out and do with your friends.

One thing that we learned with the more casual arena in Burning Crusade was that it’s easy to get into the trap of thinking that someone is a PvP player or a PvE player. Actually, players just like to advance, and they’ll figure out whatever the easiest way for them to advance is. If the easiest thing for them to do is to go into arenas and lose ten games a week, that’s what they’ll do. If the easiest thing for them to do is to go in and bash their face against Kael’thas for a month then that’s what they’ll do. You have to think of that psychology and figure out how do we incentivize players to do things that help advance themselves. The fact that we have PvP advancement is really kind of what has put a damper on the Southshore / Tarren Mill kind of thing.

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