Blizzard talk Wrath of the Lich King
Join us as we sit down with Blizzard to discuss World of Warcraft, the new Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack, and the future of the MMO genre. Tom Chilton, lead game designer, and Jay Allen Brack, production director, are in the hot-seat at the Leipzig Games Convention.
How does the Lich King story fit in with what's happened before?
Chilton: Well, the arc of the storyline is really a continuation of a long running war we've set up in the universe. We really first started introducing the character with Warcraft 3, and built on it with the Frozen Throne expansion, and its been kind of in the background all through World of Warcraft so far. So, the Lich King is something that's played a fairly significant role in the game so far, with all the scourge invasions; the areas occupied by scourge, it's really a continuation of that. So its a strong part of the storyline we've done to-date.
How grandiose is this part of the plot, and how big a role will it play going forward?
Chilton: Its hard to say how significant a role it'll play in the future, but I would say its as grandiose as it gets in terms of what we've done before. I think the level of interaction for the player is higher than anything before, players are going to interact with the Lich King on several different levels. You know, if they create a Death Knight they're getting quests from the Lich King right off the bat. Also, we have other moments in the expansion where players get to interact with him, and then, at the very end, our final expansion patch - there's a fight with the Lich King himself. So, we're trying to make sure we have a higher level of interaction with that character than we have with any other main character in the past.
Brack: This is one of the lessons from The Burning Crusade in fact, so we had this big boss, that we had, a pervasive evil across the land, but only the hardcore raiders got to really experience that, so most players never got really involved, while they knew about it, they never really got to appreciate why it was so evil.
Is Wrath of the Lich King one for the hardcore fans?
Chilton: I don't know. I think the storyline is going to be satisfying to both hardcore and casual fans, like Jay mentioned, we're making sure the storyline is a success for more than just the hardcore players. Through creating a Death Knight, and other points in the questing, there is a lot of content for the hardcore. But we're trying to ensure the pack is as successful as possible. This is the deepest storyline we've done.
How do you balance the needs of the newcomer with the needs of the hardcore fan?
Chilton: Right, well, we appraoach that promilarly by ensuring we have content for everyone. This is something we've learnt over time. We learn that with every patch you need something for everyone. In previous years, we had content patches that missed out many people, and we're adressing that.
Visually there are improvements. Is this part of a gradual visual upgrade process, or will there be one huge overhaul in the future?
Chilton: We've definitely talked about doing both, actually. Some online games have gone the route of one giant update, but that's not always 100% successful. It's only "okay". Right now, we're going down the path of with every expansion or patch, adding new visual things. To gradually improve. The game will still work on low-end machines, but if you have a high-end machine there will be new stuff.
So, a sort of organic process, which will result in a new game over time?
Does the success of the game from a business perspective impact the decisions you make from a developmental one?
Chilton: Well, it does in that we're extemely global. So we have to consider each region - approaching things differently in different places. But, really, our core vision is the same. From a game design perspective. From that perspective we still create the game the way we did four years-ago. In terms of thinking 'how do we make this a fun game?', 'how do we learn from what we've done?'. Really, this would be the same regardless of 100,000 players or 10 million.
Brack: The real challenge here is thinking about how many servers we have to run; how do we get patches out to different regions. There are seven now, so it's more about the scale side of things. Our goal is to make games we're excited about making, to make fun experiences. We're just lucky so many people play our games, I guess!
Does the game's success in the West, and in Asia, mean you have different considerations?
Chilton: There are definitely some considerations, because of the regions. We have to be sensitive to local issues. That said it doesn't change our design philosophy. We try to represent different cultural elements for different regions, so it does come into play. But ultimately, we just want the game to be the same fun experience all over the place.
Brack: There's a lot of talk about "Western gamers prefer this type of game, Asian gamers like this..." That isn't how we think about it. We just want to create a fun game, and both Western and Asian players seem to like it!
With broadband evolving all the time, where do you see MMOs heading in five to 10 years?
Chilton: On the internet!
[Chuckles all round]
Brack: Interestingly, from our side, the fact that broadband penetration is increasing is a good thing. Our game does require broadband, for downloading patches and so forth. But, you know, we still have to pay for bandwidth... so I don't think there's going to be a huge rush to use all the bandwidth. Its not really the way its going. Its just a delivery mechanism, whatever the game.
Chilton: It helps solve the problem: "How do I get the game?" But that's about it.
Back to Lich King - what do you think is the biggest advancement in the update?
Chilton: From a design stand-point, one of the biggest things we're doing is introducing a new class to the game. We've never done that before. So, that's certainly a design advancement, so far we've gotten great feedback on that. We're working to improve the character class, talents, etc. Fleshing things out.
Brack: In the future I'm pretty excited about the achievements systems, its going to help players track their progress; find funs things to do. It'll sort of act as a guide, too.
How do you balance feedback from the community with deciding what you think is the right thing to do for your game?
Chilton: We definitely pay attention to what the community says... we're always listening. We look at the forums, fan sites, chat to people individually. We take it all into account but ultimately we're not driven by it. This information helps our decision making, but at the end of the day we always go with what we think is the right thing to do.
Given the game's success, do you have to insulate yourself from what's going on, to a certain extent?
Chilton: Absolutely. Not only must you insulate yourself, but also understand where they're [the community] coming from. Understand that it's their point of view; a player doing this activity, with this class, etc. You must take that into account; fill many shoes.
Do you worry you'll break the game when you make changes?
Chilton: Absolutely! That was one of our first worries when we added a new character class!
Online social networks are huge now. Is there any cross-over with what MMO makers are doing?
Brack: Yes, I think there is some cross-over, I think that some of the stuff those guys have learnt applies to us and vice-versa. We'll see in the future what we might do with this stuff. Its interesting to see how social networks try to integrate games.
It's really interesting. I remember reading that when you get a new piece of technology, if you can get a game on it then you have a chance. If you can't add a game then you face an uphill battle!
Can MMOs work on consoles? And will we ever see WoW on consoles?
Chilton: Well, I definitely think MMOs can work on consoles. No question that it's a possibility... as far as WoW goes...
Brack: Currently, we're not really motivated to try to move WoW to a console. The biggest thing is that WoW wasn't designed for a console, so retrofitting it would be a pretty serious challenge. That said I have seen people hooking controllers up to their consoles, it's a little difficult though. An MMO on the console would be an MMO designed specifically for the console. We wouldn't take a PC game and just make it work.
We're not working on that presently, however!
Thanks for your time, chaps. Enjoy the show!