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Blizzcon 08: Diablo 3 & WoW Press Conference, Continued

In addition to the previously covered topics that came up during the small press conference with WoW Production Director J. Allen Brack and Diablo 3 Lead Designer Jay Wilson, the two answered questions on a wide range of subjects.

WoW Veteran Rewards?

Brack acknowledged that veteran rewards – gifts for players who had been with the game for a long time – were something that Blizzard had talked about implementing for Warcraft, and were certainly still on the table. However, they were not a priority at the moment with Lich King on the horizon, and Brack said that Blizzard had not liked how similar rewards had been handled in other MMORPGs.

Developer/Player Excitement?

A more general question was asked of the two: did they find that there were things players had been very excited about that they hadn’t anticipated, or had there been things that the Blizzard team had thought was very exciting but that players hadn’t been as receptive towards? Wilson answered that while they largely tried – and succeeded – to synchronize excitement levels between player and developer, he mentioned that the reaction to destructible environments in Diablo 3 was something where gamers’ reactions to it had been particularly unexpected. They’d seen environmental destruction as a fun little side feature, but the players had been far more excited about it than they’d anticipated – along with the Witch Doctor’s Wall of Zombies ability.

D3 Too Easy?

Many of the questions for Jay Wilson revolved around how Diablo 3 might differ from its beloved predecessor. In response to concerns that the demo build that had been playable was “too easy,” and whether or not that would be indicative of a more casual-oriented game, Wilson reminded the audience that the playable level was, in fact, one of the earliest parts of the game – and Diablo 2‘s beginning dungeons hadn’t been that hard either. Chuckling, he also said that they’d seen more than a few would-be adventurers perish on the game floor, so the development team wasn’t worried that it was overly easy.

Other WoW Classes Starting At 55?

When Wrath of the Lich King launches, the new Death Knight class will start off at level 55 (as long as players have already reached that level with one other character on the server). Brack recognized that even with changes to make leveling easier, the trek to 80 was significantly more daunting for a level 1 than getting to 70, let alone level 60 – and for experienced players rolling alts, might just be repetitive. He said that Blizzard has talked about letting players that already possess high-level characters start new ones at an advanced level, but that there were no current plans under way to implement such a feature at this time.

The Other Guy’s Game?

Both Brack and Wilson were asked what upcoming feature they were most excited for in the other’s game. Jay Wilson said he was particularly enthusiastic about the ability to tackle any 25-person raid in a 10-man party, whereas J. Allen really liked the feel of the newly unveiled Wizard class, saying it simply felt “powerful.”

Role of Guilds in D3?

One member of the press asked Wilson about what role guilds would potentially play in Diablo 3, wondering if they would play a larger role and be more necessary, as in the first Diablo as opposed to its sequel. Wilson said that Blizzard was intending to add guilds to the game, but hadn’t yet covered what specific form they would take. He did caution, however, that since the developers didn’t want to ruin the experience for a player who didn’t have a guild, they would likely not be absolutely integral to the game’s multiplayer.

Next WoW Expansion?

Though Chris Metzen et al dropped hints as to where players might be headed next in the World of Warcraft, Brack said that nothing had been decided for certain. When asked if – wherever the next expansions would be set – they would always add more levels, he admitted that anything was possible, and that they hated to rule anything out. However, the data that the developers had gathered indicated that the things that players enjoyed the most in WoW tended to be the questing process and what accompanied it – going new places, meeting new people, and playing through new storylines. So it was very likely that any expansions would continue to have that type of content, which went hand-in-hand with leveling up.

That isn’t to say that they hadn’t looked at, for instance, implementing side levels, or even that every expansion to come would always add exactly ten additional levels. No matter the specifics, though, Brack said that they did want to emphasize the quest experience in any expansions to come.

Player Housing?

The old question of whether or not players would be able to have houses in WoW came up again at the conference, and again, Brack said that while the developers were huge fans of the concept and would love to have it in the game some day, nothing concrete was planned. He delved slightly deeper, saying that the particular issue that concerned Blizzard was what they could do to make player housing in WoW feel “cool,” and what they could offer that other games didn’t – it wouldn’t be sufficient for them to just copy-and-paste it from, say, LotRO.

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Automatic Stat Allocation in D3?

Wilson confirmed that the system in the Blizzcon demo build of D3 that automatically upgraded player statistics when they leveled up – as opposed to the D2 method of having players spend them manually – was a final design decision, and was here to stay. They had found, he said, that players who were new to Diablo 2 often bungled spending their stat points, resulting in a character that, by the standards of the multiplayer community, was seen as weak, or even useless. Furthermore, once a player became more experienced with the game and its community, there became really “only one right answer” to spend stat points with any given character. Blizzard’s aim, said Wilson, was to take that headache away – but to compensate by providing greater customization in terms of the abilities and upgrades players have available.

WoW “A Good Game, Not a Great One”

One question addressed to Brack asked him how the developers intended to keep WoW fresh as the ridiculously popular MMO entered its fifth year. With a laugh, Brack joked that they would just “hang up [Wrath of the] Lich King posters everywhere.” More seriously, he said that the issue of keeping the game fresh was one of the most pressing concerns on Blizzard’s agenda, but that there was absolutely “no shortage of visions” amongst the team. According to Brack, the common sentiment amongst his staff is that “WoW is a good game, but not a great one” – that they all had places in mind for the game to go, or ideas to improve it that had not yet been implemented.

The Tides of WAR?

Another member of the press drew chuckles from everybody in the room when he asked Brack a very open-ended question: “One word, say whatever comes to mind: Warhammer.” The WoW director said that he had a copy of Mythic’s recent MMO, which had launched in late September with the sort of fanfare not seen in the Massive genre since … well, World of Warcraft. However, with the impending launch of the second WoW expansion, he hadn’t had time to play it – though he intended to sink his teeth into the game over Thanksgiving.

Brack dismissed the notion that Blizzard actively sought to “crush” new MMOs, pointing out that nearly all of the staff were not just game developers, but passionate, lifelong gamers as well. Many of them had good relationships with developers at other studios, and at the end of the day, if a game flopped, it meant that jobs could be in jeopardy. “There’s nothing we like more than competition,” Brack said, noting that it encouraged Blizzard to step up its own game, and was healthy for the industry as a whole – and good for gamers as well. So even though WoW and WAR might technically be competitors, he wished Mythic luck, and was sincerely hoping for the game to succeed, as he had in the past with titles like Age of Conan.

What Have You Learned From Other Games?

A follow-up question asked the developer what they had learned from other games, seeing what worked and what did not. Brack agreed with the sentiment that a developer should never be afraid to implement something in their game that would make it better just because someone else had thought of it, that there was no shame in saying, “Hey, those guys had a good idea, it’ll make our game better … let’s use it!” In particular, he pointed to the upcoming Achievement system, saying that Blizzard had seen how popular similar features had been with services like Xbox Live or Steam.

New Secondary Profession?

While new primary professions had accompanied each of the game’s two expansions – Jewelcrafting for Crusade, and Inscription for the upcoming Wrath – the game had maintained the same three secondary professions for four years now, and Brack said that they would really like to add more in the future.

Will Diablo 3 Have Shrines?

Jay Wilson wouldn’t rule out the possibility that shrines would make a return in Diablo 3, though said that it wasn’t very high on their priority list – that in Diablo 2, there had only been a few shrines that players actually found useful: “Oh hey, I have extra Cold resistance … and nothing around here uses Cold damage.” If they were able to figure out a way to properly implement them that made them desirable, it was certainly an option, but hardcore fans of D2‘s shrines probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.

What You’re Looking Forward To, In Five Words Or Less?

The final question of the conference was addressed to both developers with a tounge-in-cheek tone, asking them to say what they were most pleased with in their upcoming games – in five words or less. After a moment’s thought, Brack counted off, “I really like Death Knights,” eliciting laughter from the attendees. Continuing past the five-word limit, he elaborated, saying that he enjoyed the feel and the playstyle of the class. There was more than just Death Knights that he was excited about in WotLK, though – the Achievement system had actually been his own pet project, and he was extremely happy with how it had turned out. Brack also praised the new system introduced in Patch 3.02 where mounts and non-combat “vanity” pets would no longer take up bag space.

Like Brack, Wilson was also a huge fan of Diablo 3‘s Wizard, admitting that it was probably “[his] favorite class.” He revealed that the Wizard had actually been designed before the Witch Doctor class, but that Blizzard had elected to show off the Witch Doctor first at the game’s unveiling in WWI.

WarCry would like to heartily thank both J. Allen Brack and Jay Wilson for putting up with all of our questions and answering honestly! Stay tuned for the final Blizzcon wrap-up!

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