Mondes Persistants: What can you tell us about the story of Wrath of the Lich King? Why do we go to Northrend and why now?
Jeff Kaplan (Tigole): The story is pretty in the player's face, right from off the boat. Whether you're Horde or the Alliance you're going to be drawn in by Arthas. The Horde and Alliance are going to send expeditions to Northrend to fight and defeat the Lich King. What they don't know, they'll know after you write your story, is that Arthas is actually luring the Horde and the Alliance and try to pit them against each other. The reason for this is because Arthas wants to bring them into his hold and take them under his power. He has things that cannot be defeated with his current sort of mindless, brainless minions, and he needs you, the player, to come and he wants to take you over. It's the same way the Lich King originally took Arthas and sent him against King Therenas, to go kill his father the leader of Lordaeron. It's the same feeling. Can he get the Horde to go and kill Thrall?
MP: How does the Death Knight fit into the lore? How can you play a Death Knight and then just come back to Stormwind and go "hey! I'm a Death Knight but that's cool I'm still your friend!"?
Tigole: (laughs) We're actually still working on the story of the Death Knight. Basically, like the Forsaken, our undead race, they've broken free from the chains of the Lich King. We want that initial Death Knight experience to actually have you still under the power and feel it, and then give you that initial starting experience with you Death Knight that let you break free and then either ally with the Horde or Alliance. We hope in our original quest line that we're still developing to answer this question.
MP: Does the Death Knight has his own specific weapons, or can he just take any sword or axe and turn it into a runic weapon?
Tigole: It's probably going to be any axe, at this point. We might do some Death Knight specific weapons, but at this point we're actually thinking it'll probably be any axe or any sword. We'll play with it in the beta, and see how that develops, but right now we're thinking any weapon can be inscribed.
MP: Is the concept of hero classes something that you've been working on for a long time?
Tigole: The hero class is something that we wanted to do with the original Warcraft development, and we have been working on the design of it for a very long time. It's a very controvesial subject, how to introduce the hero class correctly into the game and not disrupt the current class balance of the game. We felt like we were going to keep the idea internal until we felt really good about the plan for what it was, and with the Death Knight it felt really right, the time felt right, and we felt we had a good plan with how to introduce it. That's why we waited for that time.
MP: Why did you raise the level cap to 80? Why ten levels?
Tigole: Ten levels provides us with the mechanisms to reward players. We can give them new items that feel very relevent to them. We can give them new spells, abilities, give them new zones to adventure in. If we don't give players new levels to gain, what we are forced to do is just inflate the item levels. If all we do is inflate item levels and make them more powerful, in essence, we are still having levels in the game, they're just into the player. You end up with a level 70 player that didn't play so much being much lower than a level 70 player that kept getting stronger and stronger, and if those ever meet, they're really different characters. Raising the level cap let people get that progression again, people can see their experience bar go up, get a new level with news quests, a new zone, and also it brings the players closer to each other for a while. It's very important for us to maintain that balance.
We just thought that ten was a good number. We felt that five was too few, we would have had to make the progression very slow. One thing very defining about World of Warcraft is your leveling speed. It feels very different from a lot of games that make you level up. It feel like you can make progress and we didn't want to shrink that down too far. On the flip side of that, we didn't want to blow it out to like 30 levels just because of the sheer amount of content, to keep the leveling curve consistent with our current curve. We felt like that was an unreachable goal. So ten just felt like the right number.
MP: What can you tell us about the instances and raids in Northrend? We know for instance that there is a Titan city there, are we going to see it?
Tigole: We haven't officially announced yet that Ulduar is going to be one of the raid instances, but it's definitely very interesting to us and we would like to do a lot of big epic content in there. There's also Azjol'Nerub, the home of the Nerubian spider people, there's going to be a few instances that take place in there. There'll be Malygos, the blue dragon, that will be a singular raid encounter, sort of like Onyxia, where you get to fight Malygos up on the Nexus, which is this magical dragon place in the center of Coldarra. There are a few other raid instances such as Naxxramas, which was part of the original game, but that a lot of players never got a chance to see. So we're going to re-tune it for level 80, 25 people, and make it the easiest raid instance for 25 people, so that new people that never got to see Naxxramas when it was hard will get to see it.
MP: Players have killed Illidan, now they're going to fight Malygos and Arthas. Aren't you afraid that players are going to feel too strong?
Tigole: The players love to feel strong and the best thing that we can possibly do is create a scenario where all the players go "I'm way too strong" but really it's balanced so... then what we don't want is some players feeling way to strong and then others not. But we try to do things that actually make the player feel more epic and want the player to feel like the hero in the world so we'll be very careful with how we balance PvP and PvE and make sure that nothing is overpowered. But our whole infrastructure of the game has been to implant that it can exceed level 70, level 80 for quite some time, and we planned out, you know, this much of the formulas and we've only got into this much. So, we have a lot of room to go before things start to break.
MP: What new features are you adding to World of Warcraft now that the technology has evolved?
Tigole: Destructible buildings and siege weapons are something that is much easier for us to do now that was very difficult. Even not in the Wrath of the Lich King but one of our current content patches will feature integrated voice chat. So player will no longer need to use a third party program like a Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, it's integrated right into World of Warcraft. And a lot of that is because of power systems have advanced, our infrastructure of our servers has advanced. Having a very strong server structure and servers that are very fast, lots of memory and can support a lot of players allow us to do features that we couldn't otherwise do. Like the non-instanced pvp zone, it's another example.
MP: Now that we have siege warfare in World of Warcraft, would you like to change previous battlegrounds? I'm thinking about Alterac Valley.
Tigole: I would love... well we are changing Alterac Valley that has nothing to do with siege weapons. We change it to make it more balanced we felt there was some balance issues there. What we wanna do is we want to see how siege weapons work in Lake Wintergrasp, our outdoor non-instanced pvp zone out in Northrend. We wanna also see how it'll work in the Northrend battleground and then if we can retroactively go back to some of those battlegrounds like AV and put in siege weapons and destructible buildings we'll defintitely do it. But, at this point we're not positive that the technology will allow for it in Alterac Valley because of the way that the zone was constructed versus a zone we're starting from scratch where the skies is limit and we can do whatever we want.
MP: We've heard rumors about a battleground in Azshara, is it still on the table?
Tigole: We have worked on an Azshara battleground very early in WoW's development. At the same time we were building Alterac Valley we were starting production on a zone called Azshara crater which was in the moutain in Azshara. We halted development of that and we might go back to that at a future date, but we're currently putting that one on hold.
MP: Can you tell us more about the new profession: inscription ?
Tigole: Inscription's still heavily in development so we only have a philosophy behind it at this point that I can share with you. We thought like we had professions that allow you to create items, leatherworking, blacksmithing, tailoring. We had this professions that let you modify items like enchanting or jewel crafting. But we had nothing that touch upon player spells and abilities. But then we come up with a profession that will give the player a unique minch in the market to do something that nobody else was doing at the time and a really special place. And we felt like modifying spells and abilities was that place. So inscription will let players... to give an example, this might change when the game ships, we're trying to work on the balance of it but, if I'm a mage and have the spell "Frost Nova" I can set my Frost Nova radius to be bigger with inscription so it will effect more enemies, or as an alternate choice I could affect it to make my Frost Nova hold players in place for longer. And it will sort of be my decision of how I want to inscribe that spell. The important part of the design philosophy there is that there will be a decision to be made rather than have like "ok there's one inscription for fireball and it's that it does more damage". Just everybody then just.. "Oookay that's more damage yes". We want it to be a very interesting choice for players.
MP: What about the new dance features ?
Chris Robinson: We wanted to add more customisation to the dances so people can build up from what we have here.
Tigole: We went to BlizzCon two years ago, with the Burning Crusade, and we announced Blood Elves and Draeneis and we were very excited. But they all just stood and dance. They all want to see the dance, they really liked the dances. We wanted to do something that was a feature for everybody. It doesn't matter what you do in the game, if you never get past level one, you care about the dance of your character. We want to keep the races and their specific dances, that's kind of a badge of honor for the race, you know, like the orcs doing MC Hammer, but we also want a system were people can learn new dances and then customize the dance moves, so maybe I string together a few moves, and then show it to Chris, and then go "Woah I didn't think those moves would look cool together".
MP: Could you summarize all the new informations about World of Warcraft since the BlizzCon last month ?
Tigole: The new things that we've talked about since BlizzCon. There are a couple of new things, specific to Wrath of the Lich King. It's the Nexus and the Nexus is going to be the dungeon in Borean Tundra. It has 3 wings to it, but it's hard to describe it as a winged dungeon because it's a very high concept of a blue dragon magical dungeon that's actually floating cone of rings, so it's not really winged. But at the lowest level there's a series of ice cavern that's a level 70 instance and players right off the boat who come to Borean Tundra instead of going to Howling Fjord they'll also have a dungeon. So we told the people at BlizzCon we're gonna have these two zones here equal, but we didn't mention that there's a dungeon in this one too so both get a dungeon. It also has a level 80 wing that works its way up the rings and then at the top there's a big rift in the sky where Malygos the blue dragon aspect lives and you're gonna get to fight him in a 25 person raid. So you feel like it's an instance for everybody.
The other new thing that we've been talking about since BlizzCon is that we're gonna do Caverns of Time Stratholme. So one of the favorite dungeons of players who play WoW, in the original game, is the Stratholme instance, they spent a lot of time doing that content. And then Warcraft 3 players know Stratholme from the mission called "The Calling" where you were Arthas and you go to the city, you had to kill the plague villagers, before the plague spreads and defeat Mal'ganis. That was the moment that those buildings were lit on fire. We're gonna put you in a 5 person instance in Caverns of Time back in Tanaris Desert, alongside Arthas. So you gonna get to interact with him but back when he was a good guy so he's still wearing all this, you know, shining gold Alliance armor, and alongside of Arthas you're gonna adventure through that mission, light Stratholme on fire and kill Mal'ganis.
And then the one other thing that's new since BlizzCon but not related to Wrath of The Lich King, it actually relates to one of the upcoming content patches, is that we're gonna do a patch after Zul'Aman with Sunwell Plateau. And Sunwell Plateau will feature a 6 boss 25 person raid dungeon along with a 5 person normal and heroic instance. So we feel like something for everybody there, a very hard dungeon, harder than Black Temple for the raiders and then a very fun casual dungeon for the 5 person players with a heroic version for the more hardcore player, and hopefully a bunch of new daily quests.
MP: What's going on at the Sunwell Plateau ?
Tigole: So at the Sunwell... the Sunwell is the place where Arthas marched the Scourge through Quel'Thalas and raze Quel'Thalas, raze Silvermoon City and then trashed the Sunwell. Well our storyline's gonna turn back as someone, a famous character, I can't say who yet, re-ignites the sunwell and summons Kil'jaeden back for the players to fight. So it's a pretty exciting place. Also Alliance players had never gotten to adventure in Blood Elf lands and see all the beautiful architecture and the beautiful zones. So for Alliance players, this will be their first opportunity to to get to adventure in Blood Elf area without interfering with Blood Elf newbies. We'll keep them away from the newbies.
MP: What can you tell us about the impact of the MMORPG market on World of Warcraft? Are other games affecting your player base? How long do you think the World of Warcraft is going to live?
Tigole: I don't think we can really speculate on if any of the MMOs coming out are gonna affect the subcriber base. It's really hard to say because so many MMOs have come out during WoW's development and you know, haven't really had a dramatic effect one way or the other on us... I'm mostly interested in MMOs that are coming out as a gamer, that I'm excited and I'm happy to see news MMOs and I'd be happy to play anything that comes along. MP: What can you tell us about the current state of PvP? Are you happy with it?
I think we can look towards games but it's hard to say, it's impossible to say, but we can look towards games that I consider very successful like EverQuest or Ultima Online, at the time they were fantastically successful MMOs, very good subscriber base, very strong communities. And those games are still coming out with expansions and still enjoying a very dedicated user base some have good subscribers, the games are still doing well. If we were to take World of Warcraft and compare our numbers at a peak and maybe Everquest or maybe Ultima Online at it's peak, I think we can translate that that WoW will be good for a good number of years still. We have a lot of area. What's more important to us is that we realise that we're only as good as our last game and our current game is Wrath of the Lich King and we feel like Wrath of the Lich King has to be better than Burning Crusade. We thought that Burning Crusade had to be better than the original WoW. As long as we can maintain that, then the people will still enjoy the game.
As far as graphical updates, all of our systems have been built so that if and when we choose to update things graphically, we can and it won't be a dramatic change. What we like to do is rather that overhaul everything all at once, is make more small systematic changes at certain systems, maybe like, for example we had the weather in one of the patches which was actually a change to our graphics engine but we did it in a very subtle sort of "one off" fashion that way it's not a toxic shock to the system.
Tigole: I think PvP is an evolving system in World of Warcraft, and I think it will continue to evolve. People can look back to the original state of PvP of WoW, which was Tarren Mill/Southshore "Let's just all fight each other!", to the original implementation of the honor system, then all the changes that happened with Burning Crusade, with the introduction of the arena system and the outdoor world PvP objectives. We're hoping we can evolve PvP even more. We feel that the arena system is very good, very competitive. It's actually becoming an eSport, which we are very happy about. We never designed World of Warcraft specifically to be an eSport, but we're excited about it. We've done a lot with our technology to help broadcasters.
As far as balance go, it's ongoing. We have to be careful, because tuning 2v2 arenas, versus 3v3, versus 5v5, there are very different scenarios that are underpowered or overpowered in all of those. And the we also want world PvP and battlegrounds to feel fun for the non competitive PvPers, who just want to work their way toward the rewards. We're happy about the steps that PvP has made to get to this point, and I'm hoping that we can take the same evolution that went from Tarren Mill to what we have today, and take PvP to the next level, with things like Lake Wintergrasp, the outdoor world PvP, the siege weapons and destructible buildings. I hope we can continue to evolve PvP.