World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Interview: Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street

John Funk | 20 Aug 2010 16:00
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Like you were saying, you're going to destroy some sacred cows here. And obviously, you know you're going to upset some players, just who have loved the Warcraft story for 15 years now. It's not just the story, it's also a lot of the gameplay stuff. There's only one other developer I can think of who has ever done something so drastic in changing their MMOG ... and it was Star Wars: Galaxies with the NGE which - to be respectful of them - didn't go so well. Obviously they're completely different things; this has more of a direction. Obviously you're trying to draw people back in, but are you concerned that such a massive change might drive people from the game who have been there a long time?

I don't think so. What we're really hitting hard in Cataclysm is the nostalgia factor for our long-term players, or maybe players who have put the game down and are kind of curious to come back and see it. We want them to see some cool things, you know? We want them to go into Redridge and be like, "Oh my gosh, they finally finished that bridge!" It's stuff like that.

We have NPC's that have been there forever, that maybe now are doing different things. Some of them have been murdered, some have now risen to prominence, so players can be like. "Do you remember that guy who used to just be this lowly quest giver, and now he's so important in this zone?" So, I don't think we're doing anything that is going to shock people so much that they turn away from the game. I think they're going to get sucked in the way you get sucked into like a really good story.

To make a good novel or movie, there has to be some kind of drama. There has to be stakes. And so the stakes here are this world that everyone has come to love. And you want to make sure that - you know, Deathwing calls himself "The Unmaker." He is there to destroy the world, literally, and you've got to stop him.

One of the common criticisms directed at an MMOG is that by its very nature as a persistent world, it's very static. You do this quest, you go kill those 10 orcs and then everyone in Redridge is like "Oh god, you saved us!" But then you know that the next guy after you is going to go kill those 10 orcs again. Now, obviously, part of Cataclysm is trying to make this world less static, to say "Oh look, time actually does pass." Little Timmy isn't going to be wandering Stormwind with that white kitten forever.

And you also took steps to address that with phasing in WotLK. Do you think that there's always going to ultimately be this disconnect between trying to tell a story and a world that has to be persistent? The Old Republic is trying to do this similar thing as well with a varied story, and a different world. If you saw the Guild Wars 2 trailer they just put out, they say, "Yeah we're going to have a varied story in a different world," and this is something you guys have been wrestling with too.

How do you tell a multiplayer story?

We can do it with a couple of different time-scales. The one, like you mentioned, is phasing. And our quest designers have gotten really, really clever at this. You see it particularly in the goblin and worgen start zones; those zones actually progress as you do. And you can't really turn back to the older time.

The goblin zone has a cast of reoccurring characters which include the class trainers, and they kind of travel with you, so you'll see them over and over again. There's one really memorable part, when they're all leaving from one island to another one, and they're all kind of lined up. And I thought to myself, "Man this is not something you ever see! Look, the NPCs have moved! Wow, they're in a different location now." You see it in Gilneas, if you go back and visit Gilneas - not as a low-level worgen - the place is ruined and being taken over by the Forsaken. That's a very different experience from when you first start out as a level 1 worgen character. So, the phasing we've really been able to do a lot with.

And it's not just the start zones, I can think of Redridge and Stonetalon - zones like that have a lot of phasing, too. And then on a larger time-scale, we're not afraid to kind of advance the calendar a little bit. Like, when you go back to the old world, the Lich King is dead and everyone acknowledges that fact - that the Lich King has been killed and that has consequences, and so time advances as a result of that. And we have major characters who might die or change what they're doing, or get a new job or change geographically where they are.

So, it can be a little bit of a disconnect, particularly if you go to Northrend as a lower-level character, the Lich King will still be there, and if you leave Northrend and go back to the old world, the Lich King is dead. But, aside from those continuity leaks in there, we think that it makes the players feel like they're a part of a living world.

Something else we're experimenting more with is trying to advance the story a little bit every time we do a major content patch. Like, for example, we hinted that the Argent Crusade was building a Coliseum and then in the next patch, there it was. We'd like to do similar things like that in the future, where things can kind of gradually emerge and grow over time so that we fight a little bit of that notion that the world is very static.

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