Is Cataclysm a lazy cop-out for Blizzard? Not on your life, says the developer.

When Blizzard first announced Cataclysm – the third expansion to its wildly successful MMORPG World of Warcraftat last year’s BlizzCon, fan reaction was somewhat mixed at times. Some accused Blizzard of taking the cop-out route: How could an expansion that only added five new levels and that largely focused on the old, already-existing world be anything but lazy? Clearly, they argued, the developer was just phoning it in for the third time around.

When asked what he thought about the “cop-out” suggestion, Rob Pardo – Blizzard’s executive vice president of game design – just laughed. “It’s way more work! Calling it a cop-out is just funny to me,” Pardo told The Escapist at BlizzCon 2010. “We’ve been redoing the entire world on top of making new level-up content [from level 80 to level 85] … Cataclysm has probably been two whole expansion packs full of work for us so far!”

Part of that, Pardo admitted, was due to Blizzard’s notoriously perfectionist nature messing up its initial plans. “[We] have [our] plans, but nothing is ever good enough when you start looking at it. It ends up being way more work than we ever intended … our dates slipped internally,” he said – Blizzard may be barely squeaking into the holiday season with Cataclysm‘s December 7th launch, but the studio would probably have liked a little more wiggle room than it has now.

Despite the schedule slippage, though, Pardo thinks that Cataclysm is perfectly poised to bring new players into the WoW fold as a “reboot and clean-up” of the now six-year-old MMO. “We try to serve all of our different player groups … in Cataclysm, with what we’ve learned with quest content and design, with phasing … it’s our best content, at our highest levels. [With Wrath of the Lich King], the game was getting too complicated. We’ve done a lot to clean it up.”

With the most senior members of Blizzard’s WoW team now nearing ten years’ time on the MMORPG, how was their experience trickling down to Blizzard’s other, not-quite-so-Massive titles? “All of our games influence each other in ways,” said Pardo. “We learn from each others’ mistakes and successes. I know that for boss encounters in Diablo III, [the D3 developers] talked to the WoW team that does boss fights – just on some general concepts, not anything specific.”

The designers may offer each other advice and counsel, said Pardo, but at the end of the day Blizzard’s different development teams all know they’re making different games. “They’re both fantasy games, yeah, but one is more traditional ‘Tolkienian’ fantasy while the other is dark Gothic fantasy. It’s gameplay, too – Diablo is way more fast-paced, there’s so much more action in the pacing. It’s the whole Nethack and Rogue randomization, the mature-rated violence and colors.”

Therein lies the difference between, say, a sexy demon-hunting fantasy Batman and a flying sparkle-pony.

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