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Interview: Jeff Kaplan on World of Warcraft Expansion
fura @ Friday, May 11, 2006 - 01:26 pm
Q. Why were the Draenei the right choice for the Alliance expansion race?
A. It was the right choice for a number of reasons; it wasn't just one factor. One of the main reasons is that the expansion mostly takes place in the Outlands. The Outlands were formerly the land of Draenor, the orcs' homeworld. It was this nice peaceful planet at one time and then it was corrupted. In the story of the Draenei they were a very pure and good race aligned with The Light, sort of this holy representation.
Q. What classes will be available to the Draenei?
A. Warrior, Priest, Paladin, Mage and Hunter. We might change that, however, maybe add or remove a class.
Q. Tell us about the physical appearance of the Draenei.
A. Well, the Draenei share a heritage with one of the major enemies in Warcraft, Archimonde. They are both descended from the Eredar. Lots of players have wanted to play demons, and Draenei are the closest you can get to looking like an Eredar. They have these cool forehead features, and one of the customization features is switching around these facial features and the tendrils hanging beneath the chin and so on.
Q. A lot of players speculated that you would create an “ugly” race for the Alliance to balance out the “beautiful” Blood Elves for the Horde in order to help balance out the overall faction balance in the game. Is that so?
A. I've heard that a lot, that we would make an ugly Alliance race to make more people play Horde. But we can't tank a race. We can't say, “Let's make it ugly so people won't play it.” We want to make everything in this game as cool as possible. Our goal is to make something that people want to spend hours and hours playing.
But the artists' take on the Draenei was very interesting. If you look at the silhouettes of the night elves, dwarves, humans and gnomes, they really wanted to create an interesting profile of the Draenei so that in a group shot you would have this big beefy guy on their side, which they didn't have before. The Horde obviously had that with the Tauren, and the Alliance knew the fear of having this big Tauren running up to them with the big head and the big feet and so on, and we wanted to give that sense of intimidation to the other side.
Q. What is the core game mechanic that you most wanted to change or add in the expansion?
A. The flying mounts are a great example of something we wanted to add. The first time we watched someone get on a gryphon for a taxi ride, we had people saying “That's so cool” and just watching it. And then two minutes later the comment was, “Man, we gotta make it so you can fly wherever you want.” And the problem was that the way the world was built, the old Azeroth and Kalimdor continents, in terms of the technical limitations it would totally break the world to be able to have flyable mounts in terms of how the art is constructed.
Q. What do you mean? Can you give an example?
A. Stormwind City is the best and easiest example. So Stormwind looks beautiful, but there are a lot of optical tricks and illusions about the city, like some of the spires are fake; they seem to be sitting there but they are actually off in the distance standing in null space. And the way the city is portaled, which is what they do in 3D Studio Max, so that when you're in the bank it's not rendering the Cathedral of Light or something, there are a lot of tricks involved. When you fly over Stormwind you think you see the whole city but actually a lot of the city clips out on you. A lot of what you think you see is actually a façade on the hill and there's no interior space behind it. But then when you land and you're down on the ground, it feels like you really are running into the keep.
Q. So if you could fly freely over that land it would look disjointed, like when you could get behind Kazzak's area in the Tainted Scar before that was fixed?
A. Exactly. There are lots of areas that look like that and we don't want the players to see that. So that's why we can't allow flying mounts in the old areas of the world. But now that we're making new areas, we can build them to support being able to fly anywhere you want. And now it doesn't just have to be transportation. Now we can make it so you're opening up new areas and new content based on whether you have the capability to fly.
Q. Now that the game has been out for about 18 months, and given the size of the player base, for how long do you expect the “original” low-level World of Warcraft content to continue to attract new players?
A. I think it will always draw in new players. This game in the early levels is so enjoyable and rewarding and fun. There are players who still have never played WoW before who can drop into Northshire Abbey and really enjoy it. At the same time, we've added totally new newbie areas for the Blood Elves and Draenei so veterans can have a new low-level experience. But it's not like we're pocketing the Blood Elves and Draenei in their own areas and they're locked out of the rest of the game. After level 20 or so we very quickly start breadcrumbing them all over the world and integrating them with the rest of the quests. One of the big fears we had was that if we added these cool new areas, the rest of your old world is empty all of a sudden. That's something we talked about four and five years ago. So we wanted to make sure that the old areas stayed relevant, and we're filling them in with things like the Caverns of Time in Tanaris.
Q. Why not add any new low-level instances like Deadmines?
A. Stuff like the Deadmines and Wailing Caverns is extremely popular and gets a lot of use. But at the same time people skip over and pass that content extremely fast and they never go back. So there's not a lot of bang for our buck in those dungeons. And Draenei and Blood Elves will be able to do those dungeons anyway. If we put the time into making another Deadmines, it would mean one less instance at level 60 or something when you need it to level up.
But you raise an important point in that we want low-level players to really feel invested in the world and not feel like they're off killing rats or something. So for example we have a new area called Deatholme and it's in sort of the Blood Elf version of Westfall, like the level 10 to 20 zone. And when you get to the final encounter area in Deatholme it's this staging base where Arthas and his Scourge army got ready to march through Quel'Thalas straight through Silvermoon City to the Sunwell. So you have this crazy Scourge base with banshees and all these big building models and stuff like you see in Eastern Plaguelands, but its only level 19 and 20 elite mobs. So even though it's not instanced, it will have that epic dungeony feel to it.
And in that sense Deatholme is actually more epic than Stratholme; Deatholme comes after Stratholme in the storyline. The point is that we don't want to rob low-level characters of having that content. Even at those levels we want to give you some big meaty story content that makes you feel like the hero.
Q. Looking at the high-end raid content, were there significant changes in class roles you wanted to make?
A. Well, 40-man content in particular is very challenging to tune correctly. The more people there are, the harder it is to tune because there are so many more variables. But we do like changing up class roles. You mentioned the C'Thun encounter and I think the coolest part of that encounter is that there is no concept of main tanking in the first part.
Sure, you need to tank the giant tentacles in phase two, but in the first part it's bouncing around from a mage to a rogue to a warrior and everyone needs to perform as a team. And then in the second part we change it up again and go back to reinforcing those traditional class roles of tanking and healing. So I mention C'Thun as something I'm proud of in terms of changing up class roles, but we have to remember that people like playing certain classes for a reason. As much as we like mixing things up, we have to remember to come back and reinforce those traditional roles as well.
Q. How has your concept of itemization changed since the game launched?
A. We sure have been learning from our mistakes. I think that itemization is something that's never perfected. The key is just to learn from your mistakes and avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. We've really embraced the psychological impact of the color of the items in the game. What I mean is that we can see according to all our formulas and spreadsheets and so on what an item is really worth and we can see a blue item and a purple item and see that they're the same power, but there is a huge difference in the reaction from players if it's purple versus if it's blue and that's been a very interesting thing to observe psychologically.
Also we've learned a lot about resist gear. It was a huge mistake to put nature resist gear on bosses that required nature resist to kill and that was a straight-up flub on our part. So we've learned things like that. We've also gotten a bit more creative in our itemization. Like with the Tier 3 armor sets, they do have eight-piece set bonuses, but there are actually nine pieces in each set. [The ninth piece is a ring.] So now you can break up your set a bit and still get the eight-piece bonus.
Q. So for the Tier 3 sets, is Naxxramas a token system or are there straight-up drops?
A. It is a token system but a refined token system. In Ahn'Qiraj and Zul'Gurub we realized we made a bad mistake with itemization. Token systems can be good and reputation systems can be very useful, but combining token systems with reputation requirements is not necessarily a good design decision, or at least it wasn't with ZG and AQ. For example, ZG was supposed to be a stepping stone into raiding. So you take a guild that has little experience and they go into ZG and for a new group, it's going to take them a few tries to down the first boss, Venoxis. And they finally kill Venoxis and what do they get? Probably one blue item and then this token item. But even using that token item might require Honored reputation, and so they feel like they're not being rewarded.
Instead for that first boss we need to be saying, “Good job! Here's two good items.” Instead they get something like a purple Hakkari item that only makes blue shoulders, and then only if they have Honored rep. I had that happen to me on one of my characters and I was like, “This is just broken.” So we realize things like that and we're moving to fix them.
Q. It's great to hear that you realize the issues like this that really frustrate players. But why can't you fix them faster?
A. We can only make changes so quickly and we can only make them so responsibly. Even when we change one small thing it can break something way on the other side of the game, so we have to be careful. And then you add the fact that we're in China, Taiwan, Europe, Korea, and we have to patch all those regions in the same week, it gets pretty complex. People would like us to just instantly fix stuff, but we're not always able to do that.
Q. Speaking of patching things simultaneously, there was a big controversy a couple weeks ago when you hotfixed C'Thun. With the time change and so on, European realms had like a half-day before their instances reset after the hotfix while North American guilds mostly had to clear AQ all over again to take advantage of the change. As a result, Europe downed C'Thun before the top U.S. guilds and a lot of people thought you did it on purpose.
A. That's one of the great conspiracy theories of all time. I'm fascinated by that. I happened to be on vacation the week before, when there was all this drama on the forums about C'Thun and Ouro. We just happened to put the hotfix in the pipeline on Monday morning and it just happened to go live Monday night. I wasn't even thinking about the instance reset. We didn't even put two and two together until afterwards. So no, it wasn't on purpose to hurt the North American guilds.
Q. Describe the different play styles that are supposed to be represented by the Paladin and Shaman and how they are supposed to balance each other out.
A. I don't think that paladins and shamans are supposed to explicitly balance each other out. They are supposed to be different, and frankly at some perverse level I think it's good that there's this animosity. It adds to the immersiveness because the Horde are supposed to have a special hatred for paladins and the Alliance is supposed to really hate shamans. The paladin was always supposed to be this holy warrior in plate armor, very much a support class, though one that could tank in a pinch, and they most certainly can. The shaman is a more offensive caster who wears chain armor, centered around his totems. But when I play Horde I hate paladins. It's like I could never kill them and it seems so futile.
Q. So is that you talking on the Nefarian class calls?
A. No that's not me. I think that might actually be Chris Metzen [Blizzard's vice president for creative development].
Q. What can you say about new Player vs. Player content?
A. We don't have a lot of details to talk about right now, but the really important thing is that there are major PvP changes coming. We recognize that there are major problems with the honor system currently. In particular we're not content with it being so time-focused. But there will be significant changes coming, and there will be world objectives. Now that we're building new zones from scratch, with the Burning Crusade zones we can make specific locations in our zones reserved for PvP, and maybe taking over certain objectives will give one side or another a persistent bonus like access to an additional graveyard.
Q. Can you give an example?
A. Well we're not going to do this in particular, but imagine if that tower between Tarren Mill and Southshore was a PvP objective of some sort, all the time. And the key is to do that in a lot of places and not just have one place where everyone shows up all the time and crashes the server.
Q. Can you walk me through some of the high-level instances in Burning Crusade? We already know about Karazhan and Hellfire Citadel, and I guess the final dungeon where Illidan hangs out is the Black Temple, yes?
A. Right, and then there's Tempest Keep, which is sort of right before the Black Temple, and that's where you'll find Kael'Thas Sunstrider. Tempest Keep is one main building and three smaller satellite buildings floating off it. That's all off the tip of an area called Netherstorm.
And then there's Coilfang Reservoir, which is a slightly lower level instance, and that houses Lady Vashj. Coilfang Reservoir is in an area called Zangar Marsh and you'll obviously find a lot of naga in there. It's not a totally underwater instance, but parts of it are sort of underwater, kind of like the Sunken Temple. That has a raid part in addition to five-man parts to it. In that sense Coilfang is a bit like Hellfire Citadel, where you have two 5-man wings that are what I call level-up content: a level 58 to 60 wing and a level 60 to 62 wing. Then you have a level 70 five-man wing and then Magtheridon's Lair, which is a quick 40-man raid like Onyxia.
Q. Overall, what percentage of level 60 players do you think have killed Ragnaros?
A. I don't have firm statistics, but my gut feeling is around 25 percent.
Q. And what about Nefarian?
A. From the gut, I'd say maybe 15 percent.
Q. Shifting from Burning Crusade to the next big content patch, can you describe the progression you have in mind from Ahn'Qiraj to Naxxramas?
A. Well with Naxxramas we're tuning it really to be the hardest raid dungeon out there. The number of people who have killed Ragnaros and so on is just going to keep getting larger and larger, so we really want Naxxramas to be at the top end and make it extremely challenging. With AQ we had a different design approach. With AQ we wanted the beginning to be approachable for Molten Core guilds but then we wanted a brick wall in Huhuran and the Twin Emperors where those guilds would realize they would have to leave and come back when they were a bit more experienced. With Naxxramas the shift in difficulty from the very first encounter to the very last encounter is much narrower. But the easiest encounter in Naxxramas should be around Twin Emperors level.
Q. And what about the itemization in Naxxramas? Will we have to farm the earlier parts over and over again in order be able to get through the later parts?
A. Well the items in Naxxramas are pretty amazing. They are as good as they get in World of Warcraft. If you look at the jump in quality over existing gear it is pretty shocking. So I wouldn't say that we want people to have to farm over and over again. By the time they figure out how to beat a given encounter, they should be geared enough. And on resist gear we've learned our lesson. There is purple frost resist gear coming your way.
Q. And will we hear more about Ashbringer soon?
A. You are definitely going to hear more about Ashbringer in patch 1.11. The story continues, though I can't claim to say that it ends. It's a good continuation though.
Q. What about legendary caster items?
A. A caster legendary is in the game and ready to go for patch 1.11.
Q. In terms of the progression from Naxxramas into the Burning Crusade later this year, do you want Kel'Thuzad [the final boss in Naxxramas] to still be alive by the time the expansion comes out?
A. Definitely not. If he's not dead in four or six months or whatever, then something is wrong and we need to take a look at the encounter. Conversely, he could die the day we patch it in. You hope that doesn't happen, but you never know.
Q. Are we going to need to kill Kel'Thuzad in order to open the Dark Portal?
A. No. It wouldn't be fair to impose pre-Burning Crusade requirements in order to open Burning Crusade content. When the expansion goes live, there are a lot of people who don't want to raid and never want to raid and we can't have them depending on raiders in order to open the Dark Portal.
Q. So does that mean the Dark Portal will open automatically by itself?
A. We haven't decided. We have a few ideas and we are vehemently debating that with each other currently.
Q. In terms of how Burning Crusade players will be able to handle older content, how many level 70 characters, for example, do you think it will take to kill Ragnaros?
A. I'm not sure because we're actually about to start testing on that, but I would guess 10 to 15.
Q. To wrap up, give us the big thought on what you're trying to achieve with the Burning Crusade.
A. My biggest hope is that for fans of World of Warcraft, the Burning Crusade will be the only game that's better than World of Warcraft. Our biggest goal with it is to ensure that there is a lot of content that caters to everyone's play style. We have a lot of people with a lot of different ways of playing the game, and we want everyone to feel like they're getting what they need.
source : http://www.nytimes.com/