In late October, Preach took to the skies in a nearly 20 hour journey that would eventually take him to Irvine, California. The result of months of discussion and planning, he was there to take a deeper look at a game he had played for over 15 years, and the company behind it. With PG Team member Nupss flying in as cameraman and audio wizard, they were ready to meet with several members of the Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment team to put together an (almost) Access all areas look at Blizzard and WoW. To look at what went wrong, what changed, and what the future holds.
In the first of our Interview Articles we’re going over some of the main points from our interview featuring Associate Game Director Morgan Day and Associate Art Director Tina Wang.
For Mike, one of the main points he noticed in Dragonflight was a shift in attitude, it was a whole new philosophical direction, something which Ion termed the Third Era of World of Warcraft. This Third Era was embracing and supporting systems to go forward into the future: Evergreen Systems.
Morgan has played WoW since the early friends and family alpha. He, like many of us, has seen systems come and go and they’re fun when you play through them, but leaving them behind isn’t.
“We’re not making the game better forever” Morgan acknowledges and adds that this changes with Dragonflight. Morgan seems adamant this really is a Third Era for WoW, and the professions, talents and Systems in Dragonflight will build a solid foundation to continue to improve upon them in the future.
It is important to remember that despite this new attitude to their content, there are always going to be things left behind, and it can be tricky creating new content with a view to keeping it going into the foreseeable future. “Its daunting” says Morgan, “you want to design something that is going to withstand 15 years of design”. The conclusion they came to however is that systems don’t have to stay the same forever.
“There will absolutely be systems added that are evergreen and will continue to move forward and evolve”
When discussing things evolving in MMOs, the way WoW handles its dungeon design is an interesting study. Some MMO’s have veered more towards shorter dungeons with less trash, others have focused on a more linear and cinematic dungeon with set times. As far as WoW goes, Morgan says the general rule of thumb is “as long as you can pop LFG in your lunch break and get in a dungeon and finish, we’re good to go”.
When looking at Linearity Morgan says some of his favourite dungeons are the ones you can get lost in. These cavernous open wide spaces like the new Brackenhide Hollow dungeon you’ll see in Dragonflight are much different from a hall-room-hall-room format, and they love that.
Another thing the team tries to put thought towards is how different classes will play in the dungeon. They want to make sure there are opportunities for different archetypes to shine. Morgan explains that in Maldraxxus for example the dungeons have smaller pulls but a large lieutenant type mob, they’re perfect for single target, and that is all part of their dungeon design process: Creating hero moments for every class.
Morgan admits this approach might be different to how other games do things, but they love having variety across their dungeons and it’s something they think has worked well for them.
After an expansion in the Shadowlands, the team are excited to bring us back to Azeroth. “The further you go from home, the more you want to return to the familiar” says Tina. With a lot of the team playing Classic and Dragon Isles on the horizon, the team were inspired and excited to return.
The art team are trying their best to create a sense of storytelling and Immersion inside dungeons. Some methods are more direct, where if you stop in Uldaman for example you can see murals on the walls that tell a cohesive story should you care to stop and look at them. In more indirect ways they try and keep the immersion and theme consistent throughout.
Mike mentioned that the raid reminded him very strongly of Molten Core, and Tina can understand where he gets that feeling. The first bosses you fight are two molten giants, and the theme of a land full of elemental power is very evident, feeling the same as you felt walking into Molten Core is understandable. They like that strong feeling of fantasy when you walk into an instance.
“When you have such a strong fantasy when you walk in the door, its a nice place to be”
Using the environment to convey a theme and fantasy is important in all areas of the game, and in a dungeon where you’ll be spending around 20 to 40 minutes, having one continued theme throughout is fine. A raid is a little different however, you spend a lot of time in there so when it has one look and one aesthetic that can be boring and repetitive. As a general guide, says Tina, they try and have 50% of the raid as a core, main, theme, and then the other 50% they try and break up into separate ones.
Speaking of immersion and Fantasy, that played a large part in WoW seemingly embracing flight in the upcoming expansion. Tina put it simply as: “Can we really make an expansion about dragons without flying?”
It is one thing to embrace the ‘bastard child of Warcraft’ as Mike called the standard flying system, but the team wanted to use Dragonriding as a chance to let you interact with the world in a different way. The old system was ‘swimming in air’ and they wanted to change that. Dragonriding allows you to engage with the environment and make it a more meaningful experience all around.
The Dragonisles were built with the idea of Dragonriding in mind. They very intentionally tried to make high peaks, and quest designers tried where they could to put quests hand-ins at the top of peaks, so when you’re done you can jump off and get that momentum. The map itself was built like that, with Valdrakken at the top being thought of as the main hub and most places below it being within gliding distance. The idea they had was that players would set their hearthstone in Valdrakken and then leap from it down to where they wanted to go, be that exploring the land or going to pick up another quest.
The huge landmass that is the Dragonisles also helps with Dragonriding, it is the biggest continent they’ve ever created and Azure Span is the biggest zone they’ve ever created. When you’re soaring over it at speed, you have the room to soar and roam on the back of your drake.
You can hear the full version of the interview with Morgan and Tina on the premium section of our website!
The two in-depth videos of our trip to Blizzard HQ can also be found on our Youtube Channel!
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