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AusGamers Greg Street World of Warcraft Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:35pm 18/11/11 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Blizzard's Greg Street while out at this year's BlizzCon to talk about pandas, pet battles and crafting war...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for the HD option.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents welcome back to AusGamers, you’re here once again with Stephen Farrelly. We’ve been lucky enough to be invited out to Blizzcon for the second year in a row -- thank you very much Blizzard.

I’m here with Mr. Greg Street, who you all know works on this title World of Warcraft. A lot to talk about today; information overload for me -- my brain is about to explode.

Greg Street: [laughs] That’s the idea!

AusGamers: I actually managed to get some of my guys in Australia (they were up early watching the live feed anyway) to give us some questions. But before we get there, what I wanted to do -- maybe for some of the guys that don’t necessarily know -- where did the genesis for this [Mists of Pandaria] come from? Because... well, I kind of know, but let’s hear it from you.

Greg: Well we have had... Pandaren were added as an April Fools joke for Warcraft 3 years and years ago and it really hit a nerve with our players. It’s something that we’ve brought back every now and then as a joke -- never a main part of the game -- and it’s something that players just really clung on to and every time we ask “hey, what new features would you like to see in World of Warcraft?” it’s “Pandas! Bring the pandas back”.

So all of a sudden, this thing that had kind of started as a joke, took on a life of its own and when we were thinking about what to do following Cataclysm, we were like “you know, we could make a whole expansion around the Pandaran”. Not just have them as a race, but go to their homeland. Then we would have all this rich, Asian landscapes and things to drawn on -- we’re always looking for ways to do new zones that don’t look like things we’ve done before and here’s this whole half a world we could draw on that we haven’t done yet.

AusGamers: Was there ever a concern internally that -- being that it was a joke -- that there might be a contingent of the hardcore players worried that it doesn’t fit into the overall lore that you had already created?

Greg: Oh yeah, that was a huge concern. Particularly, we were scared that once players heard the name -- without seeing the art -- they would make the worst conclusions: “Oh, we’re going to have this silly... what are they thinking? World of Warcraft’s now just going to be a big joke”, but hopefully today, once players see the artwork and see the videos that the Pandas have a lot going on.

They have a really rich culture with a long history. They have a lot of personality individually. They like to drink; they like to sleep; but they also like to fight. I think they’re going to be a really compelling race. I love the animations; I love the facial expressions they have.

AusGamers: So was it a slow burn for you guys? Because a lot of the stuff you were talking about today was like Drunken Master and having such love for classic Asian kung fu movies and stuff like that... was it a case of “you know, we’ve got this joke, wow we could do that!” or was it just a really long process of thinking iteratively about what would be the right thing to do?

Greg: No, in fact we had already started work on a totally different idea for 5.0 and then we started to say “you know, I think we could really do something with the Pandarens”. And as soon as we started talking about that with the team, everyone was immediately “yes, that’s it! Gotta do that” and there was no going back from there.

AusGamers: Can you talk about what the other idea was before this one came in?

Greg: [laughs] Not really, because we may still need to use it at some point.

AusGamers: Ok. One of the other things is there’s a lot of big changes happening with this, but you’ve got 4.3 coming up quite soon. Is it safe to say that a lot of the new features that you’ll be dropping with Mists of Pandaria will actually be slowly iterated through 4.3 or are they two very separate drops?

Greg: It depends on the feature. We are introducing rate-finder in 4.3 and we hope to learn a lot about what that experience is like; what kind of player goes and uses that and work out any wrinkles before 5.0 ships. But then there’s things like the talent tree overhaul, which is so severe that it needs to wait a new expansion and we can wipe everyone clean.

AusGamers: One of the things that one of our guys wanted to know was, you talked about having less linearity in the startup experience: How deep is that going to go and what’s the process... you used one example, but with this are you retooling how you do all quest-lines?

Greg: Yeah. Ok, so the challenge with making quest-lines is, if we make them linear, we can tell a great story that builds up to a climactic ending. But then it’s very linear and players can’t leave a story-arc half way through, or they can’t jump back, or worst is they forget where they were on the story and can’t catch up, or they can’t catch up with their friends.

So our strategy for the new continent is, each zone will have story-arcs. And it might have four or five story-arcs that are twenty or thirty quests perhaps. But then we’ll have a lot of one off things too. It might just be “go to a village and a villager needs your help to do something” and that’s the whole quest-arc.

You can do it out of order, you can skip it, you can do it any time you want. So we want to have a lot of the old sense of discovery of “oh, I found a quest I never knew of before” and not make it so you literally have to do every quest throughout the zone.

AusGamers: How are you going to write these characters into Azeroth now? Are you going to have the world reacting dynamically... I mean post-dynamically, to their introduction?

Greg: Yeah. Post-dynamic is the right word. We’ll make it to where as the players are discovering Pandaria, we’ll advance the timeline a little bit to where some Pandara have left the continent and come to the Eastern kingdoms of Kalimdor. We won’t flood them with it, but you might see a Pandaren rice vendor or something in a town and it won’t be totally weird.

AusGamers: There also seems to be a little bit of... the monk class for example is: a really good way for you guys to exploit the kung fu stuff that you were talking about, but it’s also a class in Diablo 3. So I’m curious to know: was it always going to happen? The monk class for World of Warcraft? Or did you see what the guys were doing at D3 and just went “we’ve got to put that in there”?

Greg: No, we talked about it for a long time. There was a debate for a long time about “do we even need a new class?”, maybe the new race is enough. Then we also talked about “what should it be?” -- monk wasn’t a no-brainer. We talked about could we make a class that was just called Brew Master for example and we talked about some other ideas like that.

Certainly the fact that Diablo had a monk too came up too, but it’s hard when you have two fantasy role-playing games to steer clear, completely away from each other. The Diablo monk -- fortunately -- he’s got a very Eastern European feel, so that kind of distances a little bit from our very Chinese monk.

AusGamers: And where did the dungeon challenges come from?

Greg: That was a really interesting thought process. We decided that... traditionally, the way players would progress they would go through normal dungeons, then they’d go through heroic dungeons, then they’d go onto normal raids, then onto heroic raids. The problem we found was there was this bouncing up and down of easy content, followed by hard content, followed by easy content, where some players who were interested in raiding couldn’t get there because they couldn’t go through the dungeons to get gear to raid.

So we decided that players should just be able to go into normal dungeons and then go jump in the raids. Once we came to that conclusion, we were like “what about players who really like the challenge of being in a small group and having to use every skill at their disposal?” They might have to try multiple times before they can finally beat the boss. And we thought, we can do that, if we don’t offer power rewards. We just have to make it prestige and bragging rights and things like that. So that was really the genesis of the feature.

AusGamers: And was the the normalised weapon loadout idea basically so that there was an entry-point for other players as well, that might not be as skilled as more kitted up players?

Greg: Well, we really wanted the challenge modes to feel prestigious and you can imagine if we had bronze,silver and gold levels. Bronze is something a lot of players would be able to do, silver will get to be more rarefied and then gold will be really brutally difficult. And the way to do that is if players could just wait until later in the expansion to get better gear, it would trivialise what gold meant and then we’d have to keep track of “well, so and so player got gold in February when it was harder and now it’s March and it’s easier”.

So we said let’s just normalise the gear so having a gold achievement will always be an awesome thing.

AusGamers: And obviously the Pokemon element [laughs]. Let’s talk about that. It seems like there’s a lot of homage there -- is probably a better way to put it than taking from -- but there’s also an expansive feeling that you guys have just added some Blizzard in there as well. Can you talk to us a little bit about why the pet battles? And what do you think that players are going to get out of it apart from the customisable side and just being able to pit a pet against a pet?

Greg: It was a really good puzzle piece to fit in for us, because on one hand, we wanted give players more to do that wasn’t directly related to progression -- we didn’t want to compete for “oh, am I supposed to get my belt from this feature or am I supposed to get it from raiding, or am I supposed to get it from PvP?” We just wanted a totally orthogonal activity for players.

At the same time, we had this really rich content set, of all these pets. Players care about them; they want to collect them and then they don’t really do much -- aside from deciding if you’re going to bring out your Teldrassil Sproutling or your little Tyrael, just to show off, and the Achievements from collecting them all.

Then, we’re all big gamers and there are a lot of games out there that have played off of this idea of raising your pet, teaching it new skills and having to go out into the wild and fight other pets. And the combination of those three, we were like “this seems like a really smart feature for us”.

AusGamers: There does seem to be a pretty strong parallel to Pokemon there. I’m just wondering -- I haven’t seen it in action yet -- is there any particular music that plays as you throw out your pet?

Greg: [laughs] I think like all game designers, we look for good ideas in other genres. That’s like saying that Diablo is too much like World of Warcraft, because they’re both games where you have a health bar and you get a sword and things like that. So there’s a lot of games out there that do that. We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes too much or infringe, we just want to use features that have been shown to be really popular with players.

AusGamers: Now let’s talk about a lot of the stuff that you pulled out: there seems to be a lot of features that have been culled because they’re either too tedious or just generally don’t work now as the game has aged. Can you talk about what the culling process was like, how iterative was that and how much of that was community and how much of that was you guys internally?

Greg: Can you give an example of the kind of...

AusGamers: I’m just trying to remember, like I said it was information overload... I’ll try and remember it and we’ll throw back to it.

One of the other guys wanted to know: the character models; why we haven’t seen a model update in quite a while?

Greg: We really want to do that. The challenge we’re at right now is that when we decided that we wanted to do this new continent that we couldn’t just have the same type of creatures walking around that players were used to -- to feel like an exotic land, we needed a lot of new creature models.

So we have a lot of tasks placed on our poor character artists to deliver on all of these and then a lot of them need new animations as well -- if you saw some of the enemy creatures we’ve come up with like the Mantid and the Sha. You can’t just stick that on existing animation rigs, there’s a lot of work there to do.

I know the art team is still really dedicated to this idea of updating the character models and they’ve started it in a few small steps as trials. They’ve been looking at the dwarf in particular and I know the human and orc will be races to look at first.

The challenge there is we know that even if we update the graphics, the characters are going to look a little different and there’s some risk there that some players will say “you know what? It looks better; I like the fidelity, but it doesn’t look like my character anymore”. So there’s a big risk there and we’ve got to make sure to do it super carefully so that we don’t alienate players that have been with us this long.

AusGamers: Do you have an internal timeline as to when you’d like to do that?

Greg: It just depends on how long it takes us to make all of these other creatures we have to make, relative to when we decide to ship the expansion. But it will be an ongoing process. Even if we don’t get to it right away, it’s something that we’ll work on to where we eventually feel like “ok, we have enough content here that we can put it out in front of players”.

AusGamers: Well, what we’ll do is we’ll leave it there and I’ll research what it was that I needed to ask you before and if I get a chance, I might just throw the question at you and we’ll just add it to our transcript of this video.

But once again, thanks very much. I personally am really looking forward to it, because what can be wrong with kung fu Pandas?

Greg: It’s going to be great, yeah.

AusGamers: Great. Thanks very much for that Greg. Cheers.

Greg: Thanks. Appreciate it.

Latest Comments
Reverend Evil
Posted 01:43pm 18/11/11
Another good interview Steve. I sorta feel sorry for Greg Street. He's always in the firing line when players get upset about something that was changed. He seems like a nice guy.
Posted 01:47pm 18/11/11
Nice work steve, but next year send me :p
Posted 01:55pm 18/11/11
OFT Nice, I love this :).
Posted 02:00pm 18/11/11
Yeah good interview, but wtf has happened to wow.
Reverend Evil
Posted 06:12pm 18/11/11
but wtf has happened to wow

Are you one of those people that always thought WoW was meant to be a serious game?
Posted 02:35pm 19/11/11
Yeah good interview, but wtf has happened to wow.

Its constantly evolving and changing, such is the way of the MMO. Probably why its still so ridiculously huge. Adapt or die!
Posted 05:02pm 19/11/11
Its constantly evolving and changing, such is the way of the MMO. Probably why its still so ridiculously huge. Adapt or die!

A loss of a 2 million subscribers says otherwise, http://www.pcworld.com/article/243465/world_of_warcraft_loses_2_million_subscribers_in_a_year.html
Posted 06:00pm 19/11/11
Eorl, thing is that they didn't really adapt this expansion.

They shoveled out some old s*** from their B team, took forever to put any content in the game (*taps foot* When was 4.3 due?) and plus everything they DID bring out was the same old same old.

I'd bet those 2 million people are like me and just bored of getting fed the same old s***.
Posted 06:16pm 19/11/11
Pretty much. I'm one of them. Tried out Cataclysm, got ot level 83 on my paladin, realised this is just utter crap, and really just old things re-used, and left. If they want to get back their 2 million loss, they'll try the gimmick approach (panda expansion) or they will bring out Titan, or maybe go EQ style and bring an expansion that revamps graphics/art style.
Posted 06:42pm 19/11/11
I stopped playing a few months before Cataclysm was released. Every now and then when I have absolutely nothing to do I almost go back in for a game but stopping altogether was definitely one of the moves I've made.
Posted 11:41am 20/11/11
Majority of those subscriptions were from china, and it still leaves them with 10 million subscribers so I still think its safe to call that ridiculously huge.
Reverend Evil
Posted 12:31pm 20/11/11
funny video by that wowcrendor dude

Posted 01:06pm 20/11/11
Stupid mmo is stupid. I bet if you asked people why they even play wow it'll no doubt be because of the sub base. When you take a step back and look at the game it really is an absolute heap of s***, bit like facebook I guess, and I feel stupid knowing that I wasted so many hours on it in the past.
Reverend Evil
Posted 01:11pm 20/11/11
All games are a waste of time though
Posted 03:13pm 20/11/11
Posted 03:22pm 20/11/11
I haven't read the interview, but did anyone ask him if they decided on introducing a Panda race while they were sampling new tampons or was it while shopping for hand bags.
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