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

John Funk | 20 Aug 2010 20:00
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JF:
OK. This is a mechanical question. One of the annoying things in Wrath was that if you'd done a quest and it phased you into the next world, you couldn't go back and help your buddy who was on a 5-man quest. Are you trying to address that, so you can go back a phase and go help a friend who's in an earlier phase of the zone?

GS:
Yeah, absolutely. A very simple thing we've done is just put on your character panel what phase you're in. So that you can look and be like "Oh, so the reason I can't see you is because we're in different phases." Long-term, we're trying to work on a system where you can actually go back and forward a little bit. You might be able to scale your character down levels in order to go play with a friend, and even redo quests that you've done before.

Part of the reason we're able to do that is because of the technology we originally developed for heirloom items, which are items that scale. And then for the Cataclysm expansion, we've changed spells, so they also scale with level. So instead of having ranks now, your fireball will just get more powerful as you gain levels. So since you can scale both class spells and items really easily, now we think we can actually let you lower your level down if you want to play with somebody else.

JF:
Oh, that is very interesting actually.

GS:
I kinda wanted to have that for Cataclysm launch, but it's a feature we're working on.

JF:
So do you think that's saying that, like cross-server dungeons, it might be patched in before the next expansion?

GS:
Yeah. I mean, we gotta get this one out the door first to know how much we need to do for the patches that come afterwards, but it's definitely in the long-term plan.

JF:
So, one of the primary criticisms about WotLK is that a lot of the hardcore players thought it was really easy. I think it was really notable that the expansion launched, and then three days later the top European guild had killed everything. You also made some very controversial changes in Cataclysm, like the removal of certain stats from gear, and the decision to completely overhaul how the talent trees worked. Now you certainly have reasons behind these, but are you concerned that these might make veterans feel a little bit disenfranchised, given that one of the things in Lich King that people complained about was that it was too easy, and that you were quote unquote "dumbing" the game down?

GS:
Right, let's see, there's a lot there to talk about. First of all, I mean, it's always a concern. You know, we're trying to appeal to a really enormous breadth of players. So we have the very, very casual players who may not have played a lot of videogames before and then we've got, you know, these super hardcore guys that have been with us forever. They raid constantly, they participate in high-level PVP and they're able to handle a really sophisticated design and aren't overwhelmed by it.

So yeah, we are trying to appeal to both those groups and Blizzard's kind of strategy in general for things like that, is to have a design that is relatively simple but with a lot of depth. You can look at games like chess or go where the rules themselves aren't very complicated, but the strategies are the kind of things you can take a lifetime to master. Even though we have simplified the number of stats on gear, we still think the decisions about "What are the stats that are right for your character?" are still going to involve, all of that theorycraft and debate and forum posts that players have always enjoyed with World of Warcraft. That's part of it.

As far as the difficulty goes, what we wanted to do was enable more casual players to see more of the end-game content. The way we did that was having different strata of difficulty levels. Of the players that were saying "Yeah, yeah. It's too easy," very few of them were able to kill the Lich King until we put this massive buff in the zone. We have the numbers and we know that a lot of people struggled with that fight.

And even the guilds that killed the Lich King early on, literally took hundreds of attempts to make that happen. It wasn't that they were able to kill him in three days, it's that they raided nonstop for hours and hours and hours until they were finally able to beat him. And with a population as large as ours, that's probably going to happen unless we make the content so ridiculously overtuned that it's physically impossible to beat the bosses.

And to be fair, some guilds were telling us, "This fight is unbeatable! It is impossible to do!" and they still managed to do it. Even though a few of these guilds managed to do it early on, they're in the upper, upper one percent of skill there, and there's still thousands of guilds out there with no hope of beating heroic Lich King, even with the most massive buff we could put in there [laughter].

So, for our raiding game, and Cataclysm, I think we have one boss in particular that we are designing to be soul-crushing. It's going to have a sign on the door that will say, "You need to be this high to fight this fight" [laughter]. It's not for everyone; it's for the people who say the game is too easy, and they can see how they do.

JF:
It's for the people who went to do Algalon, huh? [laughs]

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