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World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:11am 15/11/13 | Comments
At this year's BlizzCon, AusGamers sat down with Blizzard's Helen Cheng and Marco Koegler to grill them about all things World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. Read on for what they had to say...

AusGamers: In regards to character models and the revamping of some of the tech, can you go into a bit more detail about how long you guys have been working on that [and] how deep it’s actually gone? Have you just caught the older models up with the newer models or have you gone even further than that?

Marco Koegler: So with the Pandaren model and the Mists of Pandaria expansion, we felt we had a really good sweet-spot in terms of the fidelity that we were able to get and the expression and just how they were able to emote. When you then saw the vanilla character models next to the Pandaren we were, like, “we really need to do something about this!”. It was like looking at 1100 triangle models with, like, 100 bones or something that in comparison to a 7000 triangle model with a facial rig that can actually move the mouth and do expressions.

So the simple way would have been to just “oh we are going to just take the old models, add more triangles and make them smoother”. But that wouldn’t really work with the face, so we really needed to go back and treat them as if we’re making completely new character models for these classes. But we still have to make them in a way that they are one to one parity with all the hairstyles and all the different face textures so that we can translate all the existing models to the new model.

So that was kind of what was guiding us, and that is why it was a lot of work because we have to do all the variations, all the hairstyles and up res everything.



AusGamers: Did you guys want to take the animations and designs further than what you did instead of being one to one, or was there too much investment now in the old models?

Marco: I think it’s [about] striking a balance. I think [on] one of the panels they were mentioning that it’s really about capturing the feel of the character and of the animation. Some of the walk styles look a bit stiff but once you have a lot more motion to play with we feel that we need to kind of bring them up to par as well. Like jump cycles, you start getting emotes in the face. If you look at the Orc when he jumps now he’ll do a “Argh”* kind of growl as he jumps, making it feel more visceral and punchier for those characters.

AusGamers: Have you guys upped the NPCs as well?

Marco: Yes, all the NPC models will also up res along with the player characters. So it’s going to be a nice kind of visual upgrade across the game.

AusGamers: We touched on it earlier but will Draenei and Blood Elves be included in the visual update, and how extensive will that update be?

Marco: I think there is still a lot of discussion about the Draenei because the Draenei is a race that are from Draenor, and there is a lot of Draenei there. We also feel that visually they aren’t quite as bad or -- I don’t want to say bad -- quite as old as the Dwarves and the Humans, which are races that were created four years before the game actually launched, putting them as some of the oldest assets in the game. I think eventually we want to include the Draenei and the Blood Elf but we don’t know if that will happen for Warlords of Draenor’s launch.

AusGamers: Do you guys feel that going back in time is muddying up the lore at all? Or does this give you a chance to re-explore some of the history without retconning everything?

Helen Cheng: So just to clarify the way that players will enter through the Dark Portal and go back to Draenor; we are actually going back to Draenor 30 years ago, but the way that the rules [of] time travel works is that what you are trying to do is prevent the completion of the new Dark Portal that the Iron Horde are building. As long as you can prevent that from happening, anything that happened while you were on Draenor will not persist into the current timeline.

So that was definitely something we had a lot of similar concerns about, like, “well will this possibly get confusing” or, “we definitely don’t want to change the original events that happened” but the goal with Draenor is we love the setting and we thought it would be a fantastic world for players to explore. We are going to have tons of really, really cool content for players in the pristine versions of all the zones that we used to know in Outlands.

This expansion was really a chance to go back to classic WarCraft with these Chieftains of the clans; Gromash, Hellscream, The Bleeding Hollow, The Shadowmoon and these ancient cultures that we brought in with the original WarCraft and WarCraft II but never really got a chance for players to explore fully. So it’s really an opportunity for current players to be able to experience some of that in a completely new and exciting way and to see more of them than we have ever before. So that was really the sell of the fantasy for us and the time travel is more of a vehicle for getting there, but is definitely not a focus of the actual storyline.



AusGamers: Can you talk at all about how it sort of makes sense to not mess everything up in the current timeline, but then it also feels like having that kind of balance of potentially having everything destroyed and turned on its head feels like a really good opportunity to mess with players a little bit?

Obviously in a persistent world its really hard to do something like that, was it challenging having to say “no, this has to be a TV show at the end, everything has to be back to normal?”

Helen: Actually I think it gives us a really cool sandbox to play in, because Draenor is kind of a self-contained place. Obviously we still have to save the world, with players having to rise to the challenge and stop that Dark Portal but we can do things with players that they will never expect. So it’s actually really cool for us, in that we can also build characters a little bit differently to how they may have perceived them in the past.

AusGamers: In regards to the Garrisons, is this Blizzard’s answer to player housing? How personal is it going to be? Will it be continually supported from this expansion through to the persistent future of World of Warcraft?

Marco: So rather than giving the player a house location that doesn’t mean anything, we really wanted to do something different. It felt really good to own the farm in Mists of Pandaria but it was just a really small place. So we wanted to take that up to the next level, but way beyond that and because we are tapping back to the roots of WarCraft with the theme of the expansion, that having a kind of base seemed like the right way to go about it.

So every Garrison will go through three levels as you kind of build it out and you can control the placement of the buildings. So for example you can decide where the Mage Tower is going to be at the beginning of the Garrison; is it going to be at the top of the hill and therefore customise the layout to how you want to interact with those buildings.

You’ll also be recruiting followers and every player will kind of recruit their own set of followers and you can give them names and be kind of living in your Garrison and operating the buildings and just be the economy of that place. So in terms of that, we think about a lot of customisation. You’ll be able to see your Garrison as you are kind of travelling through the world itself, so it’s not like you have to hit a magical stone and there will be a loading bar and suddenly you are in your garrison instance. We tried to make that a seamless transition. You’ll see the geometry as you place it, and as you get closer it will basically be spinning up a server instance in the background and you’ll transition to your own server at that point where your followers will be doing things that you made them do.

There is also an aspect of, if I’m in a group, you’ll be able to see the group leader’s garrison because garrisons don’t exactly exist in the same place -- there [are] multiple plots on Draenor [where] garrisons can be -- but players can obviously pick the same spot so we have some rules on how to deal with that so I can show you my garrison and you can show me mine.

With regards to carrying it forward, I think it fits into the storyline of Draenor because you are fortifying and putting a foothold in a foreign world. We’ve talked about ideas of “maybe you have your followers and you like them” and maybe if that is a popular thing future expansions could see you taking them and establishing them to other places. But the garrison itself is kind of at the moment is intended for Draenor.

AusGamers: So is it sort of like your modern version of resource management from the original RTS WarCraft? It seems like that is something you are carrying across in the expansion?



Marco: There’s hooks of that in there. For example you’ll have to get lumber and get resources to actually build some of these things. It’s definitely tapping into the RTS fantasy, but it’s not like you’ll be controlling units to do these things as you would in an RTS.

AusGamers: How many followers can you actually recruit?

Marco and Helen: [Laughs] We don’t actually have a final number yet.

Marco: I suspect it will be 15 to 25 or so. There is a lot of ideas of like, “I can send my followers to do a raid with your followers” and stuff like that.

AusGamers: You mentioned a moment ago that they help with the economy. Can you talk a bit about how that works? Are you building specific things in your garrison to make money and then putting people to work on those?

Helen: I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I think the main gameplay with the followers is that they can be sent out on missions and depending on whether they are successful or unsuccessful on the mission you can get rewards for your garrison. So they might come back with treasure or more resources for building up your buildings in your fortress.

Marco: I think when you level up the mine you can task a follower with “you are going to go mining” and after a certain amount of time they’ll come back with “hey this is what I found!”

AusGamers: Are they going to level up or are they set?

Marco: I think they are going to level up.

AusGamers: Cool.

Marco: There is a barracks where you can train your fighters to be better and depending on which mission you send them [out on] you’ll want different group compositions to be successful. It will be like certain missions will require more AoE focus or DPS focus, and you’ll want to send those followers. In the Inn you can attract followers, so one of the specialisations of the Inn is you can, kind of say “I’m looking for really good tanks,” so you specialise your Inn to serve the right kind of mead that tanks would want and then every day there might be a tank follower that shows up and you can recruit him for customisation.

AusGamers: Have you guys bolstered or done much more on bringing the pet collection and pet battle system across to this new expansion? Is there anything new happening there?

Marco: So the pet battle system is obviously going to continue into the new expansion, you’ll find new pets all across Draenor. I think there is even a pet arena stable type thing to build in your garrison.



AusGamers: So this one a lot of people have been asking about, can we expect an item squish on the rampant item gear stats.

Marco: If you have a chance to play on the showfloor, you are playing with items that have the item squish and if you don’t look at the numbers it feels exactly the same as it did before. It’s kind of a more linear curve as you are levelling up, which means if you go back to older content you can’t one-shot everything anymore but the level difference still allows a ‘safe’ environment. For example, if you hit something that is a level 70 thing and you’re level 90 it won’t do an awful amount of damage to you and you can whittle away on it while still defeating all content.

It actually elegantly solves the problem where if you try to complete a certain quest where you need to take an enemy down to 30 percent health then use some item on them, you would end up taking off all your clothes to actually do that. With the item squish you don’t have to do that anymore and it makes for a better experience all around.

AusGamers: Have you guys streamlined the item creation system at all? A lot of people were complaining about a lot of hoops to jump through in order to strengthen particular items and particular armour. Have you changed any of that component whatsoever?

Helen: Do you mean reforging or item upgrades? *laughs*

AusGamers: Well, column A and column B…

Marco: I mean hit and expertise are gone, which are the big item changes. So that means you’ll have to deal a lot less with micro managing the stats.

Helen: So we’ve actually cleaned up the different types of stats a bit. As Marco was saying, hit and expertise are completely gone from the game and there are new bonus stats that we are adding. These include cleave, multi-strike and movement speed. The idea is that when you get a piece of armour that drops you’ll always have the base stats like intellect, stamina, spirit or whatnot on a weapon. Now there is a chance that these bonus stats will roll in different quantities. So you might get a staff that’s a healer staff or something, but it rolls movement speed and extra cleave or something.

So that is really interesting and maybe you don’t like those stats but next time you get that staff drop it now has some other properties. This just gives players a lot of extra strategy to play with. I think it’s going to be really cool.

Marco: And also something to just look forward to when killing a boss several times, still looking for that same drop because there might be an additional secondary stat that is a lot more interesting.

Helen: Also reforging is gone. We are removing reforging from the game [laughs].

AusGamers: Thanks so much Marco and Helen for your time.

Marco & Helen: You’re welcome.



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