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Talking All Things Iron Horde - An Interview with Tom Chilton on World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
Post by Khel @ 04:27pm 14/10/14 | Comments
AusGamers was offered the chance to sit down with Blizzard's very talented Tom Chilton to talk about World of Warcraft's fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor...

AusGamers: My first impression, when I first saw Warlords of Draenor, was the feeling that World of Warcraft was really going back to its roots and rediscovering or reintroducing that real traditional Warcraft feeling to the series. And I’ve noticed quite a few other people who haven’t even played for years are looking at coming back for just that reason, so its definitely struck a chord. I was just wondering, was that always the plan? To do a kind of return, of sorts, to those oldschool Warcraft characters, for the 10th anniversary and everything?

Tom Chilton: Yeah, it certainly was. I mean the 10th anniversary was part of it, but its also the fact that we knew when we were doing Mists of Pandaria that we were very deliberately going with a different theme. And we did that because we had done multiple expansions that were very Warcraft-y, build up and destroy the world kind of stuff, and we really wanted to do something that was a bit more adventure-y. And I can imagine us doing that again at some point in the future, because you need those things to break up the pacing, but certainly coming back to these really core Warcraft themes for this expansion was very deliberate.

AusGamers: Cool, cool. So it seems like one of the goals of the expansion is to do a lot of housekeeping and trim a lot of the baggage that the game has picked up over the years, with reforging gone, some stats gone off gear, ability pruning, the item squish and all that. So the new status quo will feel quite different to what players are used to, and you could even run the risk of alienating players if it changes too much and doesn’t feel like the WoW they’re used to.

Tom: Right.

AusGamers: So I was just wondering how you navigate that minefield, and how you choose what stays and what goes and you know, avoid the danger of changing it too much.

Tom: In a lot of ways what we do is we take a step back, each time we do an expansion or even a patch, and we try to evaluate what it is that we think is working and what would we do (or not do) if we were making World of Warcraft again from scratch. We try to evaluate, you know, what we think better alternatives would be, and then whether it’s feasible to get from point A to point Z. Sometimes it’s feasible to get there, sometimes it takes multiple hops, sometimes it’s something that you just really can’t change.

Tom: And for sure, that’s always the scariest stuff, right? Any time we’re changing people’s characters, be it aesthetically like we are with the character models, or whether its in terms of the gameplay, there is a lot of sensitivity around that and we have to be very careful. You know, but ultimately we are very cognisant of what we feel like is the best thing for the game and we try to maintain confidence that... I mean hey, if we end up with a game that is more fun as a result of these changes, if the game overall feels better for all parties involved then it will have been the right thing. Even if that transition can be painful, and then we try to smooth out the transition as much as we can.

AusGamers: Yep, yep, so is there anything from Warlords that you wanted to do, that you ended up pulling back from? Anything that felt like it was going too far or… ?

Tom: I mean, every expansion has all kinds of stuff that we had on the table that we would have liked to have done. Whether its something even very simple, for example, I would like at some point for maybe the spell book, and the talents, and the glyphs all to be one UI rather than a couple of different scattered UI’s. That ends up taking more micro-buttons at the bottom of the screen than we really needed to, you know it could be something like that which is something we’ve wanted to do for a while now but just haven’t been able to get to.

Sometimes its a new feature. We’ve had the idea of players being able to climb ladders or things like that; sounds simple enough but theres a lot of complexities to it. We’ve had the idea of being able to do that for multiple expansions now and it was on our list of things that would have been cool to have in this expansion but it just didn’t quite fit. So its like that with every single expansion, you know its funny we sometimes have ones that have been sitting around in our task log waiting to be done and they get punted down the line… 5 years… 6 years before they then finally happen.

AusGamers: So, yeah I guess this expansion, as far as the level range goes, we’re jumping back up 10 levels again from 90 to 100 compared to the 5 levels we’ve had in the previous few expansions. I was just wondering if there was any reasoning behind that, and if that reflects how big Draenor itself is going to be or how many quests there will be. I mean, is there going to be twice as many as Mists had or is it just going to be the levels coming quicker?

Tom: Right, well, so a lot of where that started from, since we were going back to Draenor, we felt that it was important that we have roughly a similar amount of land area and a similar number of zones as Outland did, right? We wanted to make sure it felt familiar enough, and for example when we created Shadowmoon Valley we didn’t want it to be dramatically different in size (either smaller or bigger) than the old Shadowmoon Valley. And in a lot of ways that drove the total world size we were creating for the expansion. Then that total world size, in many ways ends up driving the total number of quests that we have. And then the number of quests that we have often drivers the number of levels that we do.

And so that, plus the nice fact that level 100 sounds so much cooler than level 95 (laughs).

AusGamers: (laughs) It does feel like a good milestone!

Tom: So I would say, theres certainly 10 levels worth of content in the game, combined with the fact that level 100 just has a nice ring to it and that sounds good.

AusGamers: So another one of the big new features of Warlords is World of Warcraft’s take on player housing with the Garrisons. I mean, it’s a lot more than just a place for players to hang out and decorate, it sort of comes with its own gameplay and gives players a lot of perks and bonuses. I was just wondering if you could talk a bit about how intertwined into the story are the Garrisons and how woven into the fabric of Warlords is the feature. Is it just kind of something on the side or is it a core part of what players can expect to be doing?

Tom: Yeah, its really become a core part of what players can expect to be doing. Its pretty deeply integrated into the questlines and pretty much everything thats happening around the world. Its very central to the storyline of what is happening. I would say more so than even when we first considered and conceived the feature because as we continued to build it we realised the feature got cooler as we integrated it more and as it became more central.

Its really definitely very much about giving players a fresher gameplay experience, not only as they level up but also in terms of the endgame, it really adds to the mix of things players do at the endgame and then pretty meaningfully adds a spin to what players do as they go from level 90 to 100. At least, as compared to previous 10 level bursts. We’re definitely happy with the way that is turning out and we hope that players enjoy it!

AusGamers: When Warlords was first announced at Blizzcon last year, and the new 20 man Mythic raid difficulty was announced, it was mentioned that as part of that it would give encounter designers more freedom to make some unique mechanics for the fights because they could kind of assume group compositions would have each class represented. I was just wondering if you managed to deliver on those concepts with Mythic raids and if theres some of those unique of special mechanics in the raids now?

Tom: Right, well I mean in general there have been mechanics that we could do with 20 people or 25 that you couldn’t really do with 10. Having twice the number of players really does essentially guarantee for us that you’ll have all the different character classes available. I would say that a big part of it is also… just in terms of… with content that is that cutting edge and that finely tuned to be super difficult even for the top half percent of players in the world, it becomes significantly harder to deliver on that promise when having to do it in multiple different formats and kind of waters down that experience for everybody.

So I feel like that theres just kind of practical realities behind how much energy we can put into tuning the game for less than half percent of the players, and how much content we’re creating around that.

AusGamers: Fair Enough. So theres a big new open world pvp zone, Ashran, in this expansion. Now I’ll admit I’m not the biggest pvp’er in WoW, I think the only time I ever really did pvp in Mists was to get my legendary quest done, but Ashran even has someone like me pretty intrigued and looks pretty fun.

Tom: Cool!

AusGamers: It kind of evokes that nostalgia of the big old Alterac Valley games. I was just wondering, how does it play out? Like how long does a round of Ashran last, will it just be a 10 minute thing, will it be days? Is it something players can drop in and drop out of or do they stay for a whole game? How does that work?

Tom: Well its a lot like you were saying, where players will drop in and drop out of it because honestly its in a lot of ways like that old Alterac Valley where there wasn’t really almost a beginning or end (granted with Alterac Valley, eventually there was). But we definitely built Ashran with players like you in mind, in that its not designed to be the most competitive or the most skill determined form of pvp in the game. In fact its supposed to be very casual friendly in terms of you can get lost in the crowd, you can run in there whenever you feel like it, kill some enemy players, get some stuff for it, get your rewards and be out of there - in and out whenever you feel like it and the battle just kind of moves back and forth organically as time goes on. Because there isn’t really any sort of very well defined beginning or end to it.

So its definitely designed to be not like a battleground, because battlegrounds are very good for what battlegrounds do. They have this very clear beginning and end, clear objectives for the players to do in a certain sequence, thats what battlegrounds are about. Whereas Ashran is more about the organic flow of world PvP.

AusGamers: Nice, sounds good. Now I’m a pretty big fan of the lore and the story behind WoW, so I have to throw a story question in. The story towards the end of Mists leads into Warlords quite well with Garrosh linking the two together and the Iron Horde and all that, so I was just wondering how far ahead was that planned. How long was that the direction you were going in? And have you already thought about what the story of Warlords will be leading into? Oh, and I have to ask, will we see the Burning Legion in Warlords of Draenor?

Tom: Right, so as relates to the first part of the question, in terms of… I would say right near the end of Mists of Pandaria development where we were sort of crystalising what the Warlords expansion was going to be and really kind of understanding the nuances of how patch 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 were going to lead into Warlords. So I would definitely say that everything that you saw in 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 was leading to that eventuality. And that was about two years ago at this point. And so we are definitely looking out farther now than we have been in the past. So yes, we have a very clear sense of how Warlords is going to drive into the next expansion and I’ve certainly said before in previous interviews that the Legion presence will certainly play up near the end of this expansion. They’re definitely not happy about how things have gone down with Mannoroth and all that good stuff (laughs).

AusGamers: Awesome! I guess a little bit related to the topic of how you said you have an idea of how Warlords is going to go, but there has been talk in the past of speeding up the rate that new content is delivered at and decreasing the amount of time between expansions, and I think the idea of even having only two tiers of raiding in Warlords was floated at one point. I was just wondering what the current plans are for how long this expansion will run and how often players could expect new content throughout the course of it.

Tom: Right, well certainly we are trying to move towards more of a yearly cadence for expansions. You know I don’t know that we’re going to be all the way at that speed yet, especially considering that with Warlords it was a full two years and like three weeks. But we are certainly farther ahead on our next expansion now than we ever have been upon the release of a previous expansion. So we’re making progress, really a lot of it is we increased the size of the team substantially over the course of Warlords and you know the people that we’ve brought on board have really kind of levelled up and learned a lot and gotten a full expansion of experience under their belt from creating Warlords. So I feel pretty good about the capacity that we have being significantly improved, I don’t know if we’re at a year yet but I think… I’m certainly optimistic that we’ll see noticeable difference.

AusGamers: Ok great. So it seems like Warlords borrows a lot from the Timeless Isle in Mists, with the dynamic events and rares to hunt and things to explore around the zones. Is that sort of what level 100 content is going to be in Warlords? A bit more freeform and not so much like the daily quests of 5.0? But I guess on the other as well, have you got any plans to do some of the story driven dailies like the Shieldwall ones in 5.1 because those seemed to go down pretty well.

Tom: Right, right, I mean certainly our goal is to blend the gameplay elements of the Timeless Isle stuff in patch 5.4 and then also combine that with the story elements that we did in patch 5.1. So a lot like what you’re referencing, at the end of Warlords we have these different endgame areas - endgame points of interest that we point players to - that are much more freeform than our old daily questing model while at the same time we have what we call chapter quests that play out over the course of many weeks, where they keep driving the story forward for each of those areas. So we’re definitely trying to achieve that balance and its definitely a new direction for us and I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot from doing it in Warlords and we’ll continue to apply that going forward.

AusGamers: Well, thats all from me, thanks for your time!

Tom: Thanks a lot, take it easy!
Read more about World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 05:47pm 14/10/14
I stopped playing WoW near the end of Cata. I hate to think what the roadmap is for WoW because judging from the way they talk they expect the game to be going for like another 10 years.
Posted 07:12pm 14/10/14
Ive returned to wow for the first time in 4 years. In all honesty, I love this new style and the way its heading. Its basically all the elements i loved about wow in the first place.
Posted 11:33am 15/10/14
Yeah, I think thats definitely the feeling they're trying to recapture, evoke all that old Warcraft and Burning Crusade nostalgia
Posted 12:32pm 15/10/14
No Aussie servers, not a chance.
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