At BlizzCon this afternoon we had the opportunity to talk to Blizzard's J. Allen Brack, the Production Director on World of Warcraft. We put a range of questions to him, including many submitted by GP forum community members.
Some of the key things discussed in the interview are WoW/Battle.net integration (WoW players will require Battle.net accounts, eventually), the possibility of having real Australia/New Zealand servers in the future (maybe, but don't hold your breath), plans for WarCraft 4 (none yet, the WC team is working on StarCraft II and its expansions first) and more details about the new races and content coming up in Cataclysm.
GP: In terms of the amount of changes and new content you're introducing in Cataclysm, is it fair to say this is the biggest WoW update yet?
JAB: Absolutely, yes.
GP: With 'phasing' in Cataclysm, if one player gets ahead or behind other players, does that mean they're going to get segregated?
JAB: We have some plans to change the way phasing works, and allow players to actually play with their friends, because that's quite a dominant part of the game - that's one of the problems we had with how the phasing worked in Wrath of the Lich King. So yeah we do have plans to change that, and make it so potentially players can go from one phase to the phase their friends are in.
GP: The Worgen form in Cataclysm, this is cosmetic only?
GP: Any plans to make it a bit more than that in the future?
JAB: It's pretty cool... being as the fact that it's the only race that can transform. You know, right now we have the idea that when you're in combat you'll be in Worgen form, not your human form... but currently it's a cosmetic change. We may change our mind on it, it's something we've talked a lot about, but currently it's cosmetic only.
GP: How long have you been working on the ability to mix up the races and the classes in the way that you've done? Was this something that you always wanted to do at launch but you just didn't have time, or is this a relatively new thing?
JAB: It is somewhat relatively new, we've talked about wanting to add race/class combinations for several years now, but just never really had the right time or the right story to tie it in. We don't want to just do it because we can, we want it to have some meaning and a reason for it. So Cataclysm is really where that came together as having the right story, the right impetus, the right combination of factors to make it happen.
GP: So why is it that Goblins can't be Druids or Paladins, and Worgens can't be Shamans or Druids?
JAB: Well, there's story reasons for that, you know, we've got the idea of the Goblins as a whimsical... not a very devout race, I guess maybe the best way to say that. And you know, Paladins typically have a connection with the "light", connection with some divine spirit of Warcraft, so we didn't think that was really appropriate. Also we wanted there to be more variety in the various races, so every class can't be every race.
GP: We have a question here about World of Warcraft in relation to Battle.net 2, just wondering is the intent to basically scrap the conventional World of Warcraft login and push it all through Battle.net 2?
JAB: Yes, more or less. We launched Battle.net accounts at the beginning of the year, so now players have an optional conversion period, where they can use their existing account or use a Battle.net account. As time goes on there will be a point where we say, OK, everyone must convert to a Battle.net account. We haven't really decided when that is going to be and when the right timing for that is, but Battle.net is the future of how you'll login to World of Warcraft, absolutely.
GP: On the Goblin, that's obviously a huge area that you can put in new ideas, with mechanised objects and so forth, have you had any ideas that you've had to throw out because they're too complicated or just too weird, in terms of the way the Goblin interacts with the world and devices that you can use with them?
JAB: We've talked a lot about it... there's been a lot of internal discussion about doing the motorcycle, which is something that we did in the last expansion. That was something that there was a lot of internal debate in the team, but we decided to do it, and it actually worked out really well. It sort of has set the tone for a lot of the objects and things that we'll be doing from an art perspective for the Goblins. We're really excited about that, we're going to take them much further than I think we probably thought we would have a year ago.
GP: What do you say to people that claim the changes that you're making in Cataclysm are just going to make the game easier across the board?
JAB: I don't really think it's about making it easier, it's about making it a more compelling experience. We learned a lot from our philosophies in terms of The Burning Crusade, and in terms of Wrath of the Lich King, in terms of how to do quest content, how to actually do compelling story bits, and the idea of taking that learning and putting it back into the old game is overall actually very compelling. We knew we wanted to do this, because we knew we wanted to do two new races, and the idea of subjecting players to that same level of experience they've had in the last five years was not very appealing, so that's really the motivation to do that, it's not about making it easier.
GP: A question on the guild updates, it was mentioned that you'd be able to get cheaper repairs, as one of the abilities for the guild. Does that affect everyone in the guild in the same way, so you get say a 10% cheaper repair rate across the board for everyone?
JAB: Right, yes it affects everybody, so any kind of guild benefits or guild talent payment you actually spend points into, that will affect everyone who's a member of that guild at the moment. If you're not in the guild, you won't get those benefits.
GP: Can you give us an idea of the costs to mass resurrect your clan after a wipe?
JAB: No, because we haven't actually decided that. We know we want to do that ability, and we have some ideas, but there's a lot of challenges to figure out what the balance for that is going to be, how often you're going to be able to do it, things like that. Right now it's just kind of an idea.
GP: Have you had anything to do with the World of Warcraft movie at all?