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AusGamers WoW: Mists of Pandaria Developer Interview with Tom Chilton
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:13pm 19/03/12 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to catch up with Blizzard's Tom Chilton, Game Director for Mists of Pandaria to talk all things WoW expansions and pandas. Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly, out at Blizzard headquarters in Irvine, California. I’ve got Mr Tom Chilton here, who is Game Director here on this lovely little piece of controversy and excitement and confusion and all sorts of things [guestures to World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria poster].

We actually spoke to our community, because we were told we were allowed to tell people that we were coming here to check this out today. So I’ve got a few questions from some of those guys -- because they’re a little bit more hardcore than I am.

I’ve just explained to the guys that I’ve just had a baby, so I’ve had to put the WoW to the side for a little while. But one of the first big burning questions was -- and this was touched on in the presentation that you guys made just before -- was basically that this is the first expansion in a long time that hasn’t been directly pulled from lore and it doesn’t have some big bad boss.

And you guys are building a lot of this stuff from scratch. What’s the challenge been for you in terms of that? In terms of keeping that cadence that you’ve always had, but having to draw from all-new areas?

Tom Chilton: Right. For Sure. I would say more than anything else there, it depends on whether or not we have something really rich to work on. And certainly with the Asian landscapes and all that, there’s a lot of really interesting environment and architecture to draw from. And we still have a way of taking those ideas on their own and making them feel more Warcrafty.

So rather than looking at traditional European stuff -- which is what we’ve always done in the past -- we’ve just had to look elsewhere for that certain source of inspiration and that source of guidance. That being said, it’s interesting because our original Art Director, Sam Didier, for Blizzard as a whole, he has -- for years and years now, since even Warcraft III came out -- he’s been drawing a lot of pictures that have Pandaren in them and they’re kind of a point of passion for him.

So in a lot of ways, we’ve been able to use the art that he’s created over time as a reference and as sort of a guiding post for us to develop this look off of.

AusGamers: Is it a bit of a bonus that you guys have kind of infiltrated the Chinese market, and had a bit of a shaky start, but now they’ve got something that they can probably really sink their teeth into?

Tom: For sure. I think that’s a nice bonus for us. At the end of the day, we only do stuff if we think it’s really cool ourselves and we think it’s awesome for Warcraft in general. So I would definitely view it as it’s cool if it happens to be genuinely appealing to them. I think that we have to be careful about that -- it can always be a double-edged sword.

Because it’s very possible that the way we interpret Asian culture and all that sort of stuff, ends up not really resonating with the way that they view it. Right? So I don’t think that we can really rely on that and we certainly don’t come at this thinking “oh, we’re going to make this, for them”. I don’t know if that would work very well. Certainly not any better necessarily than when an Asian company tries to make a game for Western gamers -- I don’t know if that really works out that well.

So I think we’re just going to put our hearts into it and make it as Blizzard and make it as Warcraft as we possibly can and hopefully people around the world do like it.

AusGamers: Now one of the other things was that a lot of people were kind of worried that it’s quite bright and very “fluffy”. But I found a pretty good parallel in this to when the first Diablo III art started to come out and everybody sort of said “oh, they’ve totally destroyed the art”.

But anyone that’s dabbled in the beta -- which a lot of our readers have now -- know that it is dark and it still maintains that same feel.

For you guys, what’s the tangent in... I guess educating any of the naysayers out there about that. And you talked about this -- it’s building up to a war, it’s going to get brutal. And when the patches roll out, we’re going to see that.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny because Warcraft in general is a very colorful type of game-world. You look at our environments in the Eastern kingdoms of Kalimdor, everybody that rolled a human back in the day; creating their human and going through Elwynn Forest -- it’s a very colourful, wily, bright sort of place.

You go on to Westfall, Redridge, places like that. There are tonnes of places... I would say the majority of the World of Warcraft is actually a bright, inviting kind of environment and of course we always try to offset that a little bit with the sort of darker and more scary places and we certainly have that in Pandaria also with the Dreadwaste/Hellmourn Steps kind of areas.

But really, the continent as a whole is warm, it’s inviting; it should, if anything, invite you to explore the area and wonder what’s around or over that next hill. So that’s really what we’re hoping to achieve. At the same time -- like Chris Metzen says -- this is World of Warcraft, not World of Peacecraft, so there will always have to be those themes of war, that theme of conflict that’s building.

So even while the initial launch of Mists of Pandaria is not about the giant evil enemy, it really is about setting up this build up. There’s this new world that the Alliance and Horde both want to seize -- they want to take its resources for themselves and it’s power; it’s advantages.

So that’s going to continue to build up until eventually players are really just duking it out against each other or against their enemy faction -- whether it’s players or NPCs.

AusGamers: You guys learnt a lot with each expansion, sort of progressively. One thing that I noticed... and I did jump into the last game and played as a Worgen and there was a really cool introduction -- a reintroduction -- to the game. That first one to ten was really diverse and it felt like I wasn’t grinding and all this kind of cool stuff.

And even now, I’ve just hit level seven and I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s really, really diverse. Has that diversification in terms of engaging the player helped you guys in crafting things like the pet battle system and all the scenarios? Does that all feed into each other? Are you guys just learning how to diversify the game?

Tom: Definitely. Not only... because we know we always have to push ourselves in every direction. New environments, new races, new classes, new dungeons, new raids etc. And that really extends also to new gameplay features and I think that it’s important that we recognise that and important that we consciously go out there and try to make sure that the players are just fundamentally entertained in new and different ways.

So that has certainly extended to the creation of the pet battles and the scenarios and the challenge modes.

AusGamers: Now, there’s a couple of competitors that have come along and have come on strong out of the gate and some of our guys were wondering is there anything on the drawing board for you guys moving forward in terms of adding a little bit more voice stuff, or kind of amplifying that story component a little bit more?

Tom: Right. I think it’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily the right thing to change a game’s identify. Other games are trying to build their own identity and what works for them may work for them, but it’s not necessarily the right thing for us. There are advantages and disadvantages right?

I think playing voiced-over games like The Old Republic, I’ve certainly had the experience where there are really cool class storylines, yet at the same time, as a Warcraft player, I don’t really want to hear two paragraphs of preamble before they tell me to go and kill ten monkeys or something like that. So I think there are times that it feels right and there are other times that it’s not even necessarily [or going to be] something that felt right for World of Warcraft.

So I think that it is important for us to look at what other people are doing in the industry in general and then making sure that if there are really good ideas out there, that we incorporate some of those. For instance, we are going to get AE looting.

AusGamers: Another big burning question for us -- and I don’t know whether you can answer this one for us -- but we now have two confirmed MMOs in Australia with actual servers on our shores. I’ve brought this up every time I’ve come out here at the last three BlizzCons and it’s always met with “oh you know, logistically it’s really difficult”. But now it’s been proven that it can actually happen, can you speak about any possibility in the future for us?

Tom: Unfortunately it’s not something that I can speak to with any authority. Certainly my purview is over the game experience --the in-game gameplay experience as a whole -- and really the decision about where we create our datacentres and where we have in-game customer service -- whether it’s local or over here, whatever -- is all kind of outside of my purview.

It’s definitely something that is worth bringing up with either our executive team or any of those guys. I know that it’s something they have researched multiple times and as soon as it makes sense for us to be able to do; as soon as we become capable of doing it in a way that makes sense both for our players and for Blizzard then I’m sure we would do it.

AusGamers: Now getting back to the game. I’m kind of curious to know -- because with each iteration you guys toy with abilities and skill-trees and UI -- what was the toughest stuff to streamline and rework from a user interface perspective?

Tom: I’m sure the most difficult one was the talent system. The talent system is probably the one thing that is changing the most for players of something that they already have today. So that always provides challenges, because players are used to how something works and they’re used to the UI that exists already.

They used to be able to pop up their talent pane and click on the little buttons to fill in their talents. So fundamentally changing the way that that works inherently means that for some of the people that pop that talent pane, they’re having to learn something new. Now granted we want to try to make sure that the new talent system is still easy to learn; that it’s still intuitive; that the user interface is intuitive; all that kind of stuff so that it’s not difficult for them to switch over.

But either way you slice it, it’s a transition and a lot of effort has to go into it on our part of making sure that that transition is as smooth as possible.

AusGamers: And the introduction of a new class -- especially something like the monk, which is heavily melee-based. Did you guys have much trouble implementing that class with any of the older gamestyles or anything like that? Because obviously you can kind of build this game around that idea, but then taking it back all the way into Vanilla...

Tom: For sure. Ultimately, the gameplay for the monk, it needs to feel fresh and unique. Just like any other class feels different than other classes. But it still has to feel like World of Warcraft combat. It has to feel like World of Warcraft abilities and the timing and the overall flow.

AusGamers: With some Street Fighter moves in there!

Tom: Yeah, some Street Fighter moves right. As much as possible we try to kit it in a way that makes sense as being a monk, you know, a martial arts sort of fighter. But really have the ability to end up making it feel like World of Warcraft. And with all these tryouts and different stuff to see how far we can push that, ultimately some things may work out and some things maybe get cut or changed dramatically before we actually go live with it.

But I think at the end of the day -- just like when we introduced the Death Knight -- he really needed to feel like a World of Warcraft RPG-combat character. So I think that the monk is evolving in that direction and we’ve pushed it in a couple of different ways and we’re seeing what we can do that feels good. But at the end of the day it should feel like it fits.

AusGamers: Now some of the dungeon stuff that we went through during the presentation was pretty cool and really outlandish in certain parts. Who’s idea was it to put in a monkey knife-fight?

Tom: [laughs] Our encounter team, they all sit together in one giant pit and it’s just this giant feeding-ground of ideas. Somebody will say something that will spark something else and that will spark something else. For one thing, it makes it hard to know what the origin of an idea was, but I really credit that group in general with coming up with really clever and funny ideas.

I think it works very well for us to have our different groups sitting together like that so they can all sort of feed off each other’s ideas.

AusGamers: Have they come up with anything so far out that you’ve had to shoot it down?

Tom: [laughs] Yeah there have been times where -- even just for production reasons -- like “yeah, it’s a neat idea, but we don’t want to sink two months on creating boss fights so that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe some day if it becomes much more efficient to do that”. But it’s funny, because a lot of the things that we do now, would have been things that four years ago, we would have just said “no, there’s no way we’re going to do that”.

If you look at fights where we have complex geometry, that it changes or comes apart -- stuff like that we just wouldn’t have been able to do three years ago.

So back then, that would have been the kind of thing where you just go “no dude, we’re not even going to try and do that”.

AusGamers: Now the game looks a lot better. I’m just wondering what sort of tweaks you guys have done from a technical perspective.

Tom: Right. Year, we’re always trying to continuously evolve the engine and that really kind of helps bring out the new environments. For example, one of the things that’s different is that we’re able to texture vertical-facing terrain in much more detail than we used to be able to texture. So a lot of times before -- in the old world -- you would see the cliffs and the mountain-faces look a little bit stretched. We have ways of doing that differently now, to where it looks much more crisp than it did before.

AusGamers: Can you guys foresee a time in the future where you actually abandon that engine and come out with something really, really fresh and new?

Tom: Probably not for World of Warcraft. I think we’ll continue to evolve the engine as we have. I think -- as you were noting -- if you look at the stuff right now and compare to the stuff that we were making in 2004, there’s a dramatic difference. And I think five years from now, there will still be a significant difference between the stuff that we’re doing in the future and today.

So I don’t know that that’s really necessary. I think that people tend to actually underestimate how much we’re able to do by continuously evolving the engine and really I feel like, at the end of the day, World of Warcraft -- if you look at The Mists of Pandaria -- the overall look and style is very competitive with things that are coming out today.

AusGamers: Ok, now I’ll end on one more note -- because I think you’ve got plenty of interviews to go through today. Obviously the World of Warcraft movie is still happening. Will we see these guys in there? [gestures to Pandaren poster]

Tom: [laughs] I honestly have no idea. I have virtually no insight into exactly what the plans are for the World of Warcraft movie. That’s more in the hands of guys like Chris Metzen and our Creative Development department and Legendary Pictures. I know they’re still in the process of working out exactly how the screenplay is going to work and what the script is, so I don’t know.

AusGamers: Would you like to see them?

Tom: It would be cool. [laughs]

AusGamers: Alright. Well we’ll leave it there, but thanks very much for your time today Tom. Guys, you heard it here; Blizzard; Mists of Pandaria

Latest Comments
Posted 06:35pm 19/3/12
as soon as it makes sense for us to be able to do; as soon as we become capable of doing it in a way that makes sense both for our players and for Blizzard then I’m sure we would do it.

Typical dodge on the server issue. No one ever wants to talk about it so I don't see us ever getting even a single official WoW server. As soon as it makes ense they'll do it? it made sense even 2 years after launch when WoW was going strong and they still havn't done it. But of course they just can't admit they don't want to and think of australia as a secondary market. I don't hate blizzard for it, I just don't like the people in charge of the WoW division.
Posted 06:42pm 19/3/12
Typical dodge on the server issue. No one ever wants to talk about it so I don't see us ever getting even a single official WoW server. As soon as it makes ense they'll do it? it made sense even 2 years after launch when WoW was going strong and they still havn't done it. But of course they just can't admit they don't want to and think of australia as a secondary market. I don't hate blizzard for it, I just don't like the people in charge of the WoW division.

SWTOR has servers based in Australia - i think they are in Sydney. if you want to play an MMO with awesome ping play SWTOR.
Posted 06:48pm 19/3/12
Yeah seems Blizzard will never bother, even with the stupid amount of money and how many people would flock to play WoW on a local server. I find it funny that they stated "when we think it makes sense", oh so EA and Bioware doing it 3 months after launch doesn't make sense?
Steve Farrelly
Posted 06:51pm 19/3/12
To be fair, as he pointed out, Tom isn't specifically the person to have asked that question to, and that anything could actually happen down the track. We are chasing up more specific replies though
Posted 06:54pm 19/3/12
Seems to me that WoW is finally over the hill, even a friend who has played it religiously, and even met his partner on there, has finally quit.
Posted 08:54pm 19/3/12
even a friend who has played it religiously, and even met his partner on there, has finally quit.

I bet when the expansion comes out he resubs
Posted 09:27pm 19/3/12
Loved how he asked about oz servers .........
Posted 09:36pm 19/3/12
SWTOR has servers based in Australia - i think they are in Sydney. if you want to play an MMO with awesome ping play SWTOR.

No, no, no... NO tufnut.

That's absolutly NOT true. It can't be. Just asll the f*****g QGL retards will protest... because it's just costs TOO MUCH MONEY to run a MMORPG server in Australia. It's completely NOT economical and blizzard simply DONT have the cashflow to do this so no one else would have the cash flow either.

Reverend Evil
Posted 11:07pm 19/3/12
Nice interview Steve.

Really liking the visuals of Pandaria. F*** me dead they look awesome. Can't wait for this to come out.
Posted 11:12pm 19/3/12
Yeah, it sounds fun and looks pretty good, once you get past that initial "What the f***?!?! Pandas?!?!" reaction, it actually sounds like one of the better expansions they've done in a while. Just hope it has a strong enough story to carry it through, ToR really raised the bar for what I expect from my MMO stories now.
Posted 11:24pm 19/3/12
Don't go here if you don't want to be spoiled
Posted 11:29pm 19/3/12
I'm sure everyone will be happy Garrosh gets his s*** f***ed up, even if they have to wait till the end of the expansion to see it happen
Reverend Evil
Posted 11:30pm 19/3/12
I don't care about spoilers Eorl so I'm up for reading everything. I like the sound of Orgrimmar being attacked to get rid of Garrosh. He must be doing something very naughty.

Posted 11:31pm 19/3/12
All sounding very casualness at the moment. And also lol at Farmville being added into the game.
Reverend Evil
Posted 11:38pm 19/3/12
I was hoping the goblins would be able to be monks. They're my favorite race now. Not only do they look awesome but they also have awesome racials. It's quite ridiculous what they get. Anyway, I'll just roll a panda to get one.
Posted 11:41pm 19/3/12
And also lol at Farmville being added into the game.

Haha, yeah, thats a bit wtf too. I guess they added Plants vs Zombies in Cataclysm so they're trying something new. I'm hoping its done in like a tongue-in-cheek kind of way to poke fun at farmville though, if its done seriously then... yeah... kinda gay.
Posted 12:25am 20/3/12
Also as in tradition of the Dance Studio, the confirmed racial graphic updates are "not coming nor are they ready".
Posted 12:26am 20/3/12
Total crap just like the other expansions only good one was BC the game is faceroll now and I started to play SWTOR with 20 ping and OMG its is MADD! WoW is dieing they gave me free lvl 80s just so I would play again lol NOOBS thanks for the free upgrade... cough cough even tho it was useless...GIVE US A AUSSIE SERVERS AND I MIGHT CONSIDER SPENDING MY HARD CASH IN YOUR GAME!...At least in starwars I dont have to live on the game to farm my minerals ( love the companion) /rolls eyes at GAMER....they have enuf money to give free account upgrades to there latest expansion Im sure they have enuf to host a server in Australia....
Posted 12:30am 20/3/12
did gamer make a new account?
Posted 09:36am 20/3/12
the confirmed racial graphic updates

when was the racial graphic update ever confirmed? they have always said they will look into it and that it involves a lot of work.

man these blizzard threads have so much QQ
Posted 10:56am 20/3/12
Yeah, the updates to the old races were never confirmed, all they've ever said is they're looking at them, and they're working on them when they get a chance, but it was never confirmed to be part of this expansion.

Last time they talked about them at Blizzcon they still weren't even entirely sure how they were going to put them in the game, because they don't want to piss off the people who want to keep their existing look/model.
Reverend Evil
Posted 01:43pm 20/3/12
I reckon this is the xpac that gets WoW back on its feet. Cataclysm was good for an upgrade. Although I don't think anyone felt threatened by Deathwing. He was just the precurser to set things in motion. S*** is about to hit the fan with Garrosh in charge of the Horde. He's gonna go bats*** crazy and do something stupid that will cause the Alliance and Horde to butt heads.

It's gonna be awesome. I have faith in Blizzard.
Posted 02:02pm 20/3/12
I reckon this is the xpac that gets WoW back on its feet

I reckon not, just IMHO, but not enough change here for me to come back :(
Posted 02:08pm 20/3/12
Hmmm, must of been a miss-quote then. Anyways, friends and I are looking at trying out this latest expansion, but we shall see. I think the boat has finally sailed for many old players to come back, we either have other MMO's to play, or just aren't interested in the direction it's going. Also kinda waiting for GW2.
Posted 03:40pm 20/3/12
Yea well, blizzard are losing a ton of players atm due to new MMO's and boredom in WoW, Its so boring I must admit getting free epics and doing AB and WSG since Vanilla is not fun TURN THE GAME UPSIDE DOWN FFS
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