The latest patch for WoW went live this week, and the new scenario instances advance the story quite a bit.
The patch schedule for the Mists of Pandaria release schedule for WoW has felt a lot quicker and more robust than at any time in the venerable MMO's past. In March, Patch 5.2 came out only six months after the expansion landed, and here's Patch 5.3 - dubbed Escalation - this week, less than 3 months later. I got a chance to speak to Ion Hazzikostas, lead encounter designer for World of Warcraft and he let me know how Blizzard has finally learned the secret sauce for quicker updates, what to expect in the new scenarios released for Escalation, and what is up with Garrosh Hellscream, Warchief of the Horde.
"Players consume content faster than ever before and they have an appetite for more and more content and we're committed to delivering it while maintaining the high level of quality that we've set and established over past years," Hazzikostas said. "We're really happy with how Mists of Pandaria has gone so far in that regard and something that we think we're going to be able to sustain going forward."
It only took 9 years, but Blizzard's development teams for WoW have finally established a good pace at updates. There's a cycle in place now for how they release patches in between major expansions. "We have a cycle we've developed and that we're pretty happy with for Mists of Pandaria patches where the even patches introduce entire new raid tiers with new raid zones, and then the odd numbered patches are providing additional content and storytelling moments, advancing both the story and character progression along those lines."
Blizzard has also ramped up its production through specialization, teamwork and establishing a strong creative process. "We have a mix of people in terms of talents and interests. There are some who are great writers and love just diving into writing dialogue, writing a story. Others are more gameplay focused, they're really all about tweaking the gameplay when you get down to it.
"There's a lot of just brainstorming and meetings of throwing around ideas, particularly at the start of a given patch cycle as we're trying to figure out what's the story we're going to tell is going to be, how it's going to end up, how it's all going to turn out," Hazzikostas continued. "Also, we're constantly paying attention to feedback from our fans and our players, seeing what they enjoy, what characters resonate with them the most. Characters that are beloved by the players are ones that we're likely to pay more attention to going forward because we see there's already been a clear response."
I imagine a kind of writer's room like you see on 30 Rock with ideas being thrown out and put on a whiteboard. "It's definitely thoroughly collaborative and whether it's the work that we're doing on the encounter side and the stories that we're telling in dungeons and raids and also the quest team what they're doing," he said. "All of us kind of talk and bounce ideas off each other and make sure that we're all on the same page but also [make sure] the different pieces of the game are reinforcing each other and complementing each other in a way that lets players experience all of them to get a fuller understanding of the story and the background behind some of the different characters and all the events as they fit together."
Speaking of the new events, strange things are afoot in the Barrens as the different leaders of the Horde are starting to mobilize against their Warchief, Garrosh Hellscream. It's been great to see a character that was introduced in WoW's second expansion The Burning Crusade grow into such an important characterthat, you know, everyone hates. "Garrosh is a character that players first met in Burning Crusade in Nagrand, where he was sort of an intimidated and cowed son of Grom Hellscream the orcs found out there," Hazzikostas said. Garrosh was promoted to Warchief when Thrall went to fight the elemental lords during Cataclysm. "[Garrosh] kind of grew into a leader but he obviously has some flaws. He has some positive traits and he a bunch of negative traits that have developed and grown over the course of multiple expansions now."