Gameplanet: The concept behind Mists of Pandaria hasn't perhaps been received as enthusiastically by the player base compared to previous expansions. While sentiment seems to be warming slowly, are you happy that what you've produced will be embraced by the community at launch?
J. Allen Brack: I'm happy that the World of Warcraft community will be excited as soon as we start beta! We've got the largest beta test that we've ever had for any WoW expansion prior to this one, so as soon as we start inviting people in, and start to allow the people to talk about the game and post screenshots, I think the reaction is going to be very, very positive. I know all about that reaction, but I'm not worried about it once people see how awesome it's going to be.
Gameplanet: So when do you think the beta is likely to begin?
Brack: Soon! Trademark.
Gameplanet: Throughout Cataclysm it's been noticeably harder to maintain 25-man raid teams. Using Oceania as an example, many guilds with a lot of history have folded, and now out of the top hundred raiding groups only around eight are purely 25-man. At what point will you decide that 25-man raids are unsustainable, and switch development to only focus on 10-man?
Brack: That's a really good question. We actually have not decided what our raiding philosophy, our raiding design will be. We have a lot of different ideas in terms of where we're going to end up, but I really can't say because we basically haven't decided just yet. But we have changed our raiding philosophy very significantly with every single expansion, and I don't expect this expansion to be any different, so we'll have a lot of thought, and a big write-up, and a blog will go out when we've decided how it will all work, and the forums will explode and it'll be amazing! [laughs]
Then we'll enter beta and make all these tweaks based on how it should work according to what we've been thinking of. It's a complicated, complicated problem that has a lot of different opinions and different facets.
Gameplanet: It’s understandable from a business perspective to make all aspects of the game more available to all types of players, but some players may feel that even Heroic difficulty isn’t hard enough or that there isn’t enough content for the advanced players. Are there any plans to bring back elements that made the game feel special for the hardcore gamers?
Brack: Rewarding the hardcore of the hardcore is super-challenging, and something we are definitely committed to and we want to make sure there are special things for those guys. If you think back to the last giant raid we did, I think that was in the pre-Lich King era, was the Sunwell. The amount of energy and the amount of time that goes into creating those raids, and creating everything that has to go with it – monsters, the raid itself, all items, the armour sets and weapon sets have to be created – it's just a huge amount of team focus to create that. When Sunwell was effectively done, and Wrath of the Lich King came out, less than one percent of the playerbase actually experienced Sunwell. That's not an awesome feeling from a game development standpoint, and it's not a very good experience from a player standpoint either, unless you're that very small percentage of people that can go in and be successful. I do think it is better for the game to have a wider variety of people able to access the content. But your point about having stuff that is ultra hardcore for the hardcore players is, I think, very important as well.
Gameplanet: What lessons will you be taking from Cataclysm with respect to PvE development? There was some outstanding PvE content on the release of Cataclysm with Tier 11, can we expect the same in Mists of Pandaria, and will that quality of PvE content flow throughout the whole of the expansion?
Brack: That's interesting. I think that raids are kind of subjective. The Ragnaros fight kind of stands out as a really awesome fight. Likewise when you're fighting on Deathwing's back and prying off armour plates in 4.3, that was a really amazing experience. The vignettes that we did, the transitions where you've got the pre-rendered in-game cinematics that show part of the story happening, either Deathwing getting hit by Thrall with the Dragon Soul or Deathwing destroying one of the various transports, all those things really make it feel like one of the best, epic experiences.
I feel like the Encounter Team is at the top of their game. They're AAA, best in the world, nobody does raid encounters better than Blizzard. A lot of those guys are the same guys that have been working on the game for years. Our team is larger than it's ever been because we want to have even more raiding content than before, so we have a huge commitment, and we think that's what distinguishes WoW as better than any other game in the world.
Gameplanet: What restrictions are you going to apply to account-wide achievements?
Brack: The decisions haven't been made yet, but in general the idea is to have just about all the achievements account-wide, and also introduce other achievements that are specifically for things that you couldn't have done unless we had an account-wide achievement system. When we designed the achievement system back in Lich King days, we knew this day would come. We wanted there to be account-wide achievements but there was really no technical way to do that back then. There is a technical way to do it now, and that's why we're doing this feature. I'm not saying we'll introduce something like this, but we could have something like "raise every class to level 20" as an achievement. This is not something you can have unless you have account-wide achievements. You could have all the various professions on your character to some level of completion as another account-wide achievement. We will have achievements that are only on that specific character. We don't know what the exact list is going to be, but certain types of achievements that players have traditionally thought about, such as the Amani Bear runs, that's probably something that will be specific to that character, and not something we do as cross-character.
Gameplanet: Have you considered bringing back resistance gear boss fights?
Brack: Resistance gear boss fights are really kind of strange. I feel that it's one of those things that sucks, yet there's this nostalgia for it that's kind of weird, because every time we do a resist fight players hate it, and they think it's just a huge lock. And they complain and complain. We haven't done one in a while, I think the last one we did was Naxx Sapphiron maybe, Every time we've done one, there's been this huge outcry of irritation and anger [laughs] so it's a weird dichotomy, I think.
Gameplanet: Any plans to allow tri-spec?
Brack: Never. Not never. Never say never [laughs] I have no interest in doing tri-spec. Absolutely no interest. It's about player choices, and the idea that you are all things at all times is not something I'm excited about. Plus it's really a huge disadvantage where you've got classes that are very specifically one type of way. Like, what advantage is tri-spec for a rogue? Not a whole lot of advantage there. So I don't think we're going to implement huge features like that for a very limited number of players, I'm strongly opposed to that. Now, I could change my mind, and next time we talk I might be saying that tri-spec is the future of World of Warcraft [laughs].
Gameplanet: You've already discussed increasing character slots?
Brack: We have. We'll be increasing the available slots to 11.
Gameplanet: How are you going to handle respecs for the talent system?
Brack: Everyone will get a free respec. We've pretty much done that every single expansion, when you log in and your account is all reset, this will be no different.
Gameplanet: Are there any plans to make professions equally viable? Or will raiders always have to pick two which are always superior for their class?
Brack: I feel like that's an interesting perspective. I like the word 'viable' in that question. I think there's always going to be the min/max type of player who is trying to figure out what is the min/max thing we want to do in order for my class to be the best it can possibly be. We definitely want to try to balance the professions so they feel like they are an add to the things you have, they are ways to make your character better, and try to make them as balanced as possible.
Gameplanet: Can you tell us more about the new Challenge Mode?
We have the Challenge Mode coming out, which is about a team of people doing time trials on dungeons and getting rewards based on how effective they do. It's based on how well you do, and it's based on time, it's very similar to the Amani Bear run, but it's not a singleplayer experience, it's a dungeon; a five-person experience.
Gameplanet: Are these challenges based on player feedback, or was the concept invented internally?
Brack: We definitely hear a lot that the players loved the Amani Bears, and it was so hard to do the 45 minute Baron Run. It was really hard to get your Amani Bear. It felt really awesome, it felt really epic, it felt really rewarding when you actually did it, so that's really the basis of the system.
Gameplanet: Can you tell us a bit more about the upcoming raid on Orgrimmar?
Brack: Sure. We haven't designed very much of it right now, we just know we do want to have the recognition from the Horde and Alliance that we have to depose Garrosh as the leader of the Horde and reinstate Thrall as Warchief. I'm really excited about it from a player perspective, because I think if you're an Alliance player, the idea about doing a raid into the heart of your enemies capital is really satisfying, and deposing the enemy leader is super gratifying. On the Horde side, it's going to be super cool to have a raid in your own home town, and who doesn't want Thrall to be the leader of the Horde?
Gameplanet: We saw the large new mountain in the game, has it been difficult to add this extra verticality into the game engine?
Brack: We always had the ability to do that, but we had problems with the view distance. But over time, computers have become better, with faster video cards, so now we have a view distance that can be a lot longer. We also have issues where the more vertical you have a polygonal face, the more stretched the texture gets, but we've got some magic in there that's kind of helped make that look a lot better and a lot smoother, so we're real excited to have a new highest peak in Azeroth.
Gameplanet: Has the lighter nature of the Pandaria subject matter afforded you the opportunity to just have a lot more fun creating this expansion?
Brack: I think so. One of the conscious decisions we made is to really change the tone of this expansion. We've had three expansions in a row of the "giant uber-evil" that's threatening to kill everyone and take over various pockets, and this is an intentional decision to say hey, we're not going to have a big bad guy. It's going to be a lot more of a sense of adventure. A lot more of exploration, more of red versus blue, and new land being discovered. Getting resources to fuel the war machine, which I think has a much lighter tone than the previous expansions which were very heavy concepts. So having a lighter tone is something that's an inspiration throughout the entire team.