World of Warcraft: Interview with Blizzard's Production Director J. Allen Brack about WoW-patch 3.3 and Cataclysm
On November the 23rd, 2009 we sat down and had a talk with Blizzards Production Director J. Allen Brack, talking about WoW's fifth anniversary, the upcoming patch 3.3, the newly introduced pet shop and WoW: Cataclysm.
buffed: Congratulations, WoW has got its fifth anniversary. How does it feel to be part of such a successful and great game?
Brack: Honestly it’s pretty humbling. I don’t think anyone ever expects to work on a project that is like this. If you ever expect something like that, you’re probably going to be very sad, because there are just few things that turn out this well and it’s really humbling to hear the support from the fans, that kind of feedback and to see how popular it is. That’s pretty exciting.
buffed: So are you a part of that community in your free time as well?
Brack: I am. I probably play about ten hours a week. I have a raid tomorrow.
buffed: Nice, what are you raiding?
Brack: I’m working on… let’s see, I just finished some old world achievements and I’m working on the heroic mode for the Trial of the Crusader.
buffed: So is your character the one you logged first into the World of Warcraft five years ago to experience Azeroth or did you change in the meantime?
Brack: I got several different characters but I just pretty much got one main character and that’s more or less the one I’m stuck with for most of the time. A lot of people have tried the Death Knight or the Death Knight is their main now or they said they want to play some other class, but I have had this character for several years now.
buffed: Regarding five years of WoW Rob Pardo recently said, that he wasn’t too happy about the arena in World of Warcraft as it’s quite difficult to balance the whole game – PvP and PvE – just around one set of class skills. Is there something you’re not too happy about as it didn’t work out as good as you were hoping it would?
Brack: That’s a great question. I think the thing we’ve worked on a couple of times and that has not worked out nearly as well as we would have liked is the Looking-for-Group-system. You know in the game once we had a Looking-for-Group-system build into the meeting stones. With Burning Crusade we released a Looking-for-Group-system that was sort of “put everyone into a pile and try to figure out what the right thing to do is”. With 3.3 we’re actually releasing an all new Looking-for-Group-system and it’s actually quite good. We’re really happy to see it. That’s the first thing that comes into mind, that something we’ve put a lot of energy into and it hasn’t worked out up to this point.
buffed: Yeah, we’ve seen it on the PTRs and played a bit around. Let’s hope the community will use and like it as well.
Brack: We’ve done a lot of tests on the PTR as well and the response has been very positive – it seems we got a good system here.
The new Looking-for-Group-system Brack's referring to.
buffed: Regarding patch 3.3 there has been a post in the technical support forums stating that the players have around one month or even more of time to download the parts of 3.3. So doing the math we would expect the patch on the live servers around the end of December or even in the next year. Do you have a specific date for the patch to come live for our community or is it just done, when it’s done?
Brack: We do not have dates; we don’t really ever announce dates. I think the tech support person was kind of commenting on a generalization which is not necessarily specific to each individual patch. Let me say one of the misconceptions is the idea that we have a patch and that it’s completely done and it’s sitting on a shelf and we’re waiting for the right moment to release it to the player base. That’s not really how it works. We’ve got virtually the entire team focused on 3.3 right now making sure that everything is good, making sure that everything is ready to go. And literally the second that everything is done it will go out to the player base. We don’t hold patches that are completed for any amount of time.
buffed: There have been so far some issues with the Icecrown-phasing on the PTRs – like copied characters from the live realms cannot see the instance portals – and there will be a lot of phasing in Cataclysm as well. Has the problem been solved?
Brack: The phasing in Icecrown should not be a problem by the time of release of 3.3. But that’s one of the reasons that the patch is not our yet.
buffed: Also in 3.3 you have a quite complicated system to unlock the different wings of the Frozen Throne. We guess that happens also to control the progression of the raiders. Do you want to implement something like that more often- for example in Cataclysm?
Brack: You know that’s a good question and we actually haven’t really decided so the way we do things is to try something and to see how that goes and then decide what the next step is based on that. We have done some unlocked content before, we did it with Sunwell and we did it with Trial of the Crusade. So that is something that we have done before and we’re experimenting with again and if it works out then we’ll probably continue to do things like that. There are a lot of nice things about doing that. It allows players to enjoy what we’ve put up there a little bit more because there is not the “we have to race through, how many bosses we have till the very end” kind of mentality. There are a lot of advantages to do it that way.
buffed: So Algalon is limited as well with an one-hour-per-week-timer. In the Frozen Throne the content is going to get easier as the time goes by, for example with the buffs Varian Wrynn and Garrosh Hellscream are handing out. Is there a plan for the future – with 3.3 or Cataclysm – to remove the timer on Algalon? There might be a lot of people around who haven’t seen him die yet.
Brack: Algalon was one of those things we tried. We always wanted to have a limited kind of boss, a limited period where players could attempt a boss. That’s the idea of Algalon. Algalon is not the end boss of Ulduar and I don’t think we have really planned to change the one hour timer right now. Doing a one hour timer for Arthas who is the end boss of Icecrown makes that a little different situation. But the whole point having Algalon with a one hour timer is that he’s an optional boss and it’s definitely something for the more hardcore players to strife towards and to work towards.
buffed: Although it’s a pretty cool fight…
Brack: Yeah, I actually just have started on Algalon tenth recently so I’m a little bit behind.
buffed: Regarding unlocks und limitations our community had an interesting idea for Cataclysm; they had the idea to put an experience cap in place that would prevent players from rushing to max level in a few days. What do you think about that idea?
Brack: I think you would probably make people pretty sad. That’s probably a step we’re not going to take. I mean we could definitely do that and say “You can only make one level a week” or something like that. But I think that would have a lot of unintended consequences. Well it’s something we could consider; one of the rules of online games is “Never say never” or so.
buffed: Do you have any suggestions for the WoW players what they should do now as it might be possible that’s it’s not possible to do it in Cataclysm anymore – like achievements or special quests?
Brack: We definitely want to keep a lot of the signature quests and a lot of the things that players definitely enjoyed – either similar or in lot of cases identical to how it was before. The idea of Cataclysm is more to get rid of things that players weren’t excited about or that weren’t superfine as well as adding new stuff. We haven’t figured out what we’re gonna do with the Loremaster of Kalimdor or the Loremaster of Eastern Kingdom achievements, but that those are certainly some things that come to mind; something that’s definitely going to change.
Brack: Yes, that is what we’re discussing.
buffed: Talking about changes in Cataclysm and especially with the Barrens, what’s going to happen with Mankrik’s wife?
Brack: (laughs) Makrik’s wife is one of those signature quests from the Barrens and there is still a Mankrik’s wife quest that players have to participate in. I don’t think I’m gonna say anything more than that, I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s definitely there and there’s something new related to it.
buffed: It might be a bit too early but will there be gnomes in the cinematic trailer this time cause…
buffed: … if you got no plans for that let us assure you that the whole gnome-population of Azeroth would be very unhappy.
Brack: (laughs even more) we actually haven’t announced on the cinematic. I know that gnomes are a very popular race. And we do get requests that gnomes get some representation in a cinematic for sure, but no decision at this point. They are a super, super popular race and I’m really excited about the community reaction, they definitely have a lot of possibilities for humor.
buffed: Back to the fifth anniversary of WoW – we got the Mohawk grenades on the EU servers…
buffed: There’s the Onyxia whelp pet… Are you planning more ingame-events?
Brack: Well, the Onyxia revamp is sort of part of the five year anniversary celebration. We originally talked about doing something and came up with the idea what if we brought back Onyxia and made a level 80 version with updated gear. We ended up launching her early basically. So I think there may be a little of a disconnect in the players mind that those things are related, but obviously we got the revamped Onyxia, we got the Onyxia whelpling, that part of that ingame celebration and there is as you mentioned the Mr. T. Nightelf mohawk commerce that’s starting.
buffed: Those grenades are pretty fun.
Brack: A lot of people try to go back to get the old tier 4 gear and go to the Nightelf Mohawk-characters and standing next to them, showing what they have accomplished and taking screenshots. It’s pretty funny.
buffed: Few weeks ago you launched the pet shop – what was the players resonance?
Brack: Overall it was really positive and we’re really excited about that system and that feature. One of the things we’ve been talking about and wanting to do for a long time is to mobilizing players for a good type of thing and so doing the charity-pet is something we’ve been working on for a long time. We’re really excited about it, the player reaction was great. The art animation team did just a great job on the panda. We had a relationship with “Make A Wish” for some time now and we’re really excited to be able to work with them.
buffed: So in the future we can expect similar partnerships with “Make A Wish”?
Brack: It’s possible, we haven’t figured out yet what kind of the next right stuff is, but we were definitely excited about the player reaction and the options that the players have on the pets.
buffed: Thank you very much for your time, it’s was a pleasure.
Brack: Thank you so much.