With Rage of the Firelands finally going live this week, we sat down with Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, World of Warcraft's Lead Systems Designer and to get the inside scoop on WoW, the Firelands and just how awesome this new patch is going to be.
Its been over six months since Cataclysm launched, are you happy with how the game has been received?
Greg Street: Yeah, Id say overall were really happy with the reaction and a lot of us are still playing the content.
So how many patches will be in the Cataclysm story arc?
GS: We usually approach it with a couple of different plans because we dont exactly know how things are going to pan out. Then we can switch between them depending on what the player reaction is. We try to stay a little bit ahead but we dont set things in stone years in advance.
The removal of keys in 4.2 has led to strong feedback from players, did you expect this?
GS: Yeah I was kind of surprised by the reaction to that. We knew that the raid UI was kind of hidden and we also wanted to add a new UI element for the dungeon Encounter Journal so we decided wed add two more buttons to the bottom. Once we did that we started to run out of space so we tried to figure out if there was anything we really didnt need anymore. So theres the keyring, you dont really see it, you kind of forget its there and there are all these random quest keys.
Our experience was that players dont regularly open up their keyring and get all excited about it; we just dont use keys in the same way anymore. Basically, it was a great way to simplify the game in a way that players wont miss. But, of course, we were wrong and players are huge keyring fans. They certainly let us know!
So tell us about the Dungeon Journal.
GS: Well it was an amazing amount of work too. Originally we were going to just do the Firelands raid and then we thought we really should go back and do the two troll dungeons. Then were like, well we nerfed the content like Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight in the previous raid tier for 4.2 so maybe we should explain those fights too and finally we just decided to do all of Cataclysm. It was a ton of work but we just decided lets just explain every fight and so thats what we did.
Are you planning to eventually include older dungeons in the Journal?
GS: Yeah, we wouldnt have done it if we couldnt commit to eventually doing all of the content. I would say the next thing up would be to do the leveled up dungeons. Theres not a ton of demand for the other really complicated level 60 and 70 raids. The players that do that tend to solo it anyway.
4.2 is a much bigger patch with more than double the content of 4.1. Do you think players are going to be excited by the size of Rage of the Firelands?
GS: Its a lot, yeah. Compared to 4.1, which was a much smaller patch, 4.2 is a much more traditional for us. Overall I think we dont want to fall into anything that feels too formulaic. We dont want players to be saying Oh the third patch is always the five-player dungeon and the fourth patch is the new battleground. Mixing it up a little bit keeps it fresh and the announcements exciting.
So who is your favourite boss in the Firelands raid?
GS: I really like Bethtilac, the spider. That ones going to feel the most unusual to players because of the vertical movements. As a designer, I also really like the Fandral Staghelm fight because its a very simple fight - on paper at least. But the devils in the details and actually pulling it off is going to be challenging. All the druids want his staff too! That said, its always fun when you have a personal reason for killing a boss for more than just his loot.
So weve got seven bosses to fight in the Firelands raid, do you think its enough or are you worried people are just going to zerg on through?
GS: We hope so! The heroic modes are going to be very challenging so anyone who wants to zoom through normal mode and not heroic may run out of content quickly. We thought that, perhaps, we had too many raid bosses in the Cataclysm launch so we were trying to find out what the sweet spot is. We also like to keep it fresh, well do seven this time but that doesnt mean every raid from now on will only have seven bosses.
So, according to the patch notes, the legendary quest only open to certain classes. Is that just to annoy hunters?
GS: We just didnt want there to be any possibility of drama, its really not a very good weapon for hunters! I mean it would have stats they could potentially use but the proc wouldnt work for them. Theres just no reason to give it to a hunter!
Being able to transform into Tarecgosa is very cool but its nice to see that the reward of getting the weapon with everyone in the guild in the form of Lil Tarecgosa.
GS: Yeah and its really an epic questline. I dont want to spoil it too much but players are gonna see some things that weve never done in quests before. Theres a couple of bosses that you have to fight with your raid group, later on you go solo with Tarecgosa, the Blue Dragon, into the Nexus and fight through a load of new content there. Players are gonna be talking about this for a long time, I think.
So how does the new phasing mechanic in the Molten Front work?
GS: The biggest difference when content is phased is you only see other players that are in the same phase as you. Whereas the way we did Molten Front was different. The technology is called personal invisibility so you see something that the other players dont but theyre still right there. That way, you dont have the experience of going Where are my friends? It says theyre right next to me but I dont see them. Even if youre not with friends, its cool to see players next to you doing things, after all thats what makes it feel like a social game, knowing that those characters out there are other players.
So how long will it take players to finish then?
GS: We were trying to engineer the time around a few months, understanding that some players will be able to finish it a lot faster. We didnt want it to feel super sloggy for players that were playing a couple of times a week.
And when you finish, players will get an extra reward in the form of a firey flying mount?
GS: Actually, that mount in particular is really interesting. We made that some time ago and didnt use it for its original purpose. Then when this came up, were like Guys, we have the perfect reward already made.
So if you could only tells us about one quest included in the patch, what would it be?
GS: Wow, theres so many things that I love about the patch but theres one quest in the Molten Front that pairs you wish a famous NPC whom youve probably met or quested with before. Its random every time so its a lot of fun to do the quest and see who youre gonna get. Sometimes players will be like, who is this guy? Then others will be like, oh yeah, him!
How did you get the dailies to be so random and dynamic this time? They can be really boring and tedious
GS: Yeah daily quests used to be the new hotness and then doing the same quest every day really starts to get redundant. So were trying a new system where you can do a quest multiple times but you never know what youre going to get. It feels a little more fresh and new quests will be unlocked over time.
So as you add more things like the Dungeon Journal into the game which remove the need to tab out. Does this mean we might one day see Twitter or Facebook integration added to WoW?
GS: Yeah, wed love to do more of that. Its funny because I think its almost the expectation now that everything has that integration. Were so used to that instant communication now that just the thought of not being able to do that is kind of a weird thought these days. Its something we do have to support more.
Greg, youve gotten really into blogging on the community site lately, what do you like about it?
GS: I really like the blog, its a great way to reach a lot of players. We always had problems before, reaching people, outside of North America so its a great way to get the word out globally. I think blogging definitely has more penetration but the downside is, its harder to get the communication back from the players.
The Firelands is calling.
Care to give us an example?
GS: Well theres the new Thrall model were using for his questline. Its amazing! The amount of animations and graphic detail it has, well thats the kind of thing wed like to deliver on for all the player races.
And what about the patch trailer, it looks like the production values have really shot up and it feels more like a movie scene over a trailer.
GS: For starters, our team who put those together has just gotten more and more talented. Theyve got more powerful tools at their disposal but also that Thrall model just looks that great. Its not just for the cinematic, he looks that good in the game too!