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

John Funk | 20 Aug 2010 20:00
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JF:
On a similar level, one of the major things about Blizzard games is - especially in a game like StarCraft II - that they're very technically-scalable. Now, WoW is six years from launch at this point, it's been in development for a lot longer. Technically, the game is aging. How do you stay competitive on the visual side of things, and still ensure that the game is playable on this huge variety of machines? To make sure that someone who was playing on a computer that was "meh" in 2004 won't be left out in the cold in 2010?

GS:
It's funny, because I've been in this industry for a little while now, and, oftentimes, the attitude is, "Well, this game is getting old so let's trash it all, and start from ground zero and build something up again, and that will be the new hotness and have all these sexy new features that the old game couldn't support." What we're doing on World of Warcraft is ... our graphics programs in particular, are very, very good at getting new features in without having to burn everything to the ground.

So there are some huge graphic improvements in Cataclysm. I was looking at it today, there are things like water that looks much more like water you see in brand-new console games, for example. Real-time shadows, we have what we're calling the - I can't remember what we're calling them - the sunbeams that come down and kind of filter through tree branches and kind of go in parallax as you move. We have new ground shaders so that - I love the Barrens, but when you go to it live today, it looks like a desert, which wasn't the intention. The Barrens was supposed to be an Africa-like savannah, you know, grasslands and lots of herd animals moving around.

Now, we are able to put so many ground objects there that it looks like a grassland and not like a desert. So, we're not getting rid of our style; we have a very stylized game and it's a style that players like, and we're not going to back off from that. But we are able to put some more high-tech features in, particularly for players with really hot machines and huge monitors that can handle it. You'll still be able to play it on a pretty standard machine as well.

JF:
OK. Is the desire to remake WoW in Cataclysm in any way related to the other MMO you have in development? Sort of like competing with yourself?

GS:
Hmm, I don't really think so. I think it was just that we had people develop this game from the very beginning and they're like, "Yeah, I made that hill my first week at Blizzard and I've hated it ever since, and I can't wait for the opportunity to go back and make that hill look decent." The guys that made the trees and rocks feel the same way. They can't stand to look at the old work because they're capable of so much better now. And the quest designers feel the same way, and the class designers feel the same way, so it is kind of the chance to go back and fix things in what was our kindergarten attempt in many ways - and we have a much better feel for what works now.

JF:
EverQuest 2 came out in 2004, which was five years after the original EverQuest in 1999. This is now six years after WoW so the timespan is greater there. Do you kind of feel that this is sort of a WoW 2 - even if you're not calling it WoW 2 - like, "This is now where we go from here?"

GS:
I think our strategy is just going to be to constantly evolve the game. As long as we have 11 million or so people playing, there's not a huge demand to blow everything up and start over. I mean, we are blowing some things up [laughter], for the purposes of this expansion, but overall, we have what we think is working, and players still enjoy it. So, I would say [Cataclysm is] the next step and if we do a [patch 5.0,] which I'm sure we will, we will kind of do the same thing again - advance things a little bit without destroying what it is that players love about this game so much.

JF:
What is the Cataclysm going to be like for players in the world? I'm assuming there's going to be an in-game event like the Wrath "zombie invasion." Will we get to see the Apocalypse if we log on?

GS:
Cracks will open beneath their feet and they'll get sucked into the middle of the earth. [laughter] We actually have a producer that was campaigning really hard for, "Deathwing should kill everyone!" Like, you should log in to Cataclysm and your first experience should be, "Deathwing has killed you. Do you want to resurrect?" or something.

[laughter]

We talked him down from that, but, you know, it's a challenge. There will definitely be some story events that will help count down to the start of Cataclysm and will start the whole thing a few weeks or months before he shows up. And then one day, players will log in and everything will change and the world will look different for them. And we're going to do that shortly before they can actually go gain levels or go with us to the goblin or worgen experience.

JF:
Cool. Well, thanks a lot, Greg.

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