Five Years of Warcraft: J. Allen Brack and Samwise Speak Out

John Funk | 17 Nov 2009 15:21
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Art question: In Burning Crusade, many of the items had unique looks that resulted in a very patchwork feel. In Lich King, you went the opposite route and reused models, but people complained they didn't feel unique anymore. Which of these philosophies will you be using moving into Cataclysm?

J.: Currently, we like the Lich King approach, but you pointed out the challenges with it pretty well. Given the choice between the two, it's really a "pick your poison." While the uniqueness is lost in the level-up, that's not what's important. You want a character you can take screenshots of, and that you think looks cool. So we really want them to have some kind of consistency, where your character looks like they have a coherent art style. But, like you said, there are definitely challenges with that approach.

Do you feel like you've written yourself into a corner? Since Azeroth is constantly evolving, does that make it impossible to do a Warcraft IV?

Sam: I wouldn't say so. I think we have so many ideas that we want to do. I don't see that as hurting us at all. The more story that we can create, it helps us make a cooler world. Then we've got all these ideas, we can go, "Oh, now that that's happened, we can do that!"

J.: Typically it's not a shortage of ideas, but really a shortage of ways to execute it. We've had lots of ideas for bosses, for example, but sometimes we couldn't execute it.

Sam: With every new artist, designer, or programmer is another batch of ideas, so that keeps growing.

J.: We'll never be able to finish the story.

Would you ever consider bringing a Warcraft RPG experience to a console? Perhaps as a single-player game?

J.: We have a reputation as a PC game developer - a very strong PC game developer. Some people ask if we dislike consoles, and that's absolutely not the case - I have two consoles myself. We all play a lot of games, both PC games and console games, so it's not a dislike of consoles or anything like that. We all like to play console games, and would like to play a Blizzard console game someday, but we haven't been able to do that right. StarCraft: Ghost was kind of the latest console attempt that Blizzard made, and it didn't feel like the game was where it needed to be.

But, we've used many of the concepts from Ghost in StarCraft II, so it's not that much of a loss.

From an artistic standpoint, what's your favorite-looking zone in the game?

Sam: The Barrens, actually! That's where I kind of "grew up," it's home. In Burning Crusade, Zangarmarsh is one of my favorite zones. It just seems really out there, really just "fantastic." That's a really pretty zone. In Wrath... Storm Peaks is really fun, very powerful, there's lots of Norse mythology you can find just running around in there.

J.: I really liked Tirisfal Glades, all the undead buildings and starting area. It has a creepy atmosphere but not an oppressive one. I also really like Un'goro Crater for some reason. I agree on Zangarmarsh for Burning Crusade - the idea of mushroom forest was one of the very earliest concepts we'd done for new zones after Hellfire Peninsula. In Wrath, I really like the look of Sholazar Basin and how it fits into Northrend, how not every zone is just cold icy tundra. Sticks out in that regard, and I like the storyline behind the Keepers and the Titans there, and how Sholazar ends up being a sister zone to Un'goro.

In Cataclysm, the Worgen and Goblins look better than the Draenei and Blood Elves, who looked better than the other races. Any plans to give the other races some visual touch-ups so that they look as good as the new races? Why would anyone choose to be a Human when they could be a Human who turns into a badass werewolf?

Sam: [Laughs] Exactly! Why would you ever be a human? You're a human in real life! But J could answer that better. J, are there any plans?

J.: Yes, that's definitely something we want to do, but I don't know if we want to do it by Cataclysm. It's something we struggle with - how much of the game do we want to change at any one time? Especially if it's with the characters, since players identify their characters with themselves, and get attached to how they look, so we get into really serious trouble when we fix a weird bug with blinking or change a small animation with how players move, or tiny things like that. Even though things would be better with new models, we'd probably spark a lot of player outrage. So we've talked about giving players a choice between the classic models or the new ones, but it might not be something we want to take on at the same time as we remake Azeroth.

Is Cataclysm your way of doing WoW 2 without actually making WoW 2?

J.: We don't really talk abut "WoW 2" because there's so much that we feel like we have to tell, so many stories that people are excited about in the existing game. Other companies have tried sequelizing MMOs to some success, but for us it feels a litle weird to have 2 games running at the same time in the same world. So we're not talking about it in terms of WoW 2, but the WoW we always wished we had. We're so much better developers today than we were five years ago. It's a really appealing idea as a developer, and we really think it'll be cool for new players since they'll get the full best experience possible, and it'll be really neat for existing players who've moved on from Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms - they get to go home. They can re-level up something that feels familiar but has a lot of new elements so that it'll still be fresh.

One last question: The Goblin mount is a go-kart. Are Tauren just going to get really big go-karts?

J.: [Laughs] That is ... a very good question. We actually haven't solved that problem yet. We have the go-kart model, but we don't know how we're going to solve something like that. We'll make it work.