Earlier this week, Blizzard invited members of the media from the world over to visit their Irvine, California headquarters, spend some quality time with Wrath of the Lich King, and speak with a few of the key figures in its development.
Today begins the first in our Behind the Blue Curtain series of articles stemming from this visit, an interview with Jeffrey Kaplan, one of WoW’s two lead designers. For anyone interested, you may also read a prior interview we conducted with him back at BlizzCon.
In the days ahead, we will be publishing an interview with Tom Chilton, the game’s second lead designer, and our overall impressions on what WotLK had to offer.
Read on for the transcript, or press play to listen.
Ten Ton Hammer: I thought it was a pretty interesting decision that you guys decided to go with, the dual raiding system. How did you decide to go and do that?
Was it just a community response to the “We need 10 man and 25 man raids going at the same time,” or, was it something that you saw from the numbers?
Jeffrey Kaplan: We wouldn’t do anything that we saw from the numbers. When you look at statistics you can bend them in any direction you want to make a case for or against anything.
I think it was really an evolution of a lot of things. You touched on one of the things, which was community reaction. Another thing was we were really just trying out the heroic system in Burning Crusade, and getting a feel for what we could do with it, and what would be successful and what wouldn’t be.
At the same time, Karazhan in and of itself was a bit of an experiment. To treat a ten person zone like a full-blown epic raiding zone, and see how that would come off. It came off pretty well, and it was very popular.
Then, Zul’Amon was an evolution of that, of “Ok, we did this kind of good entry-level ten person raiding, people treat it as raiding, and come up with strats for fights and get stuck on bosses for a week or two…” I think Zul’Amon really showed that we could do pretty elite raiding at that point, and pretty hardcore, epic fights, fighting a major story character like Zul’Jin and defeating him with ten people, and it came off Ok.
On the flip side of the coin, there was a lot of discontent from the 25 person raiding crowd about having to go through Karazhan, having to kill Nightbane, and “Hey, we’re a 25 person raiding guild, that’s what we want to do, why are you forcing us to do this other content?”
The goal with the 10 and 25 thing is not that we want to have sort of easy-mode, and that’s 10, and hard-mode and that’s 25, we do want to have two separate, clear progressions, and even within those we want to have easy 10 and 25 raids, medium 10 and 25, and hard 10 and 25. We want to have progression through those.
It seemed like an overall good decision, it also seemed like a way that we could get a lot more people to experience the content, and not just feel, “Why are you making this stuff? It doesn’t make any sense to us. Who are these people that go in there? I never see them.”
It gives us a way to address a lot of issues at once.
Curse: Touching on that, how drastic are the encounters going to change between 10 and 25 man? In Naxxramas, Four Horseman may not really be viable with a 10 man, while 25 may be enough.
Jeffrey Kaplan: The Four Horseman is actually just a gnome on a puppy dog now. It’s just Mr. Biggelsworth, and we’ve put him in that room.
[Laughing] No… We’ve definitely recognized that as a challenge to us as a development team, as something that we need to overcome. What we’ve been doing is analyzing all the fights in a place like Naxxramas, and trying to come up with, “What was the heart of what made Naxxramas cool, or the Four Horsemen cool?”
Was it the fact that you needed a lot of tanks? Was that what made it cool? Or, was it the fact that it took a high level of coordination, the stacking buffs, or the movements? We’re really trying to find the essence of each encounter.
We’ll have to do different things between 10 and 25… already the Four Horsemen doesn’t work in 25 person raiding. We’re going to have to make some changes to the encounter. But, what we don’t want to do is just come up with the gnome on the puppy dog.
We don’t want to just gut the encounter and start over, we want to hit whatever the core was of the initial 40 person Naxxramas, and then come up with a version that doesn’t force weird class composition, or something like that in the 10 and the 25.
One other note about Naxx that I’ve been trying to communicate to people: It’s going to feel very different anyway, even if we hadn’t done the 10 and 25 thing, because of where we’re placing it in the entry progression.
It really is that entry-level raid now, so that means it has to be tuned to be much more at the bottom of the curve, rather than at the top of the curve where it was before. Naxx will be pretty accessible, both in the 10 man and the 25 man versions, then later on as we get into some of the deeper raid dungeons after that, that’s when it’ll start to get crazy again.