PAX East 2014 – Warlords of Draenor: Blizzplanet interviews Kris Zierhut & Steve Burke

During the recent PAX East 2014, in Boston, Blizzplanet correspondent Anthony Vaughan interviewed Lead Class Designer Kris Zierhut and Game Designer Steve Burke to ask questions concerning the pre-Warlords of Draenor world event expected to launch sometime toward the end cycle of Mists of Pandaria. They also discuss details of the Garrisons in Draenor.

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Note: Apologies for the loud background noise. PAX East was crowded. Please, If you wish to help with the missing parts of the transcription, submit a time code (01:23) and the correction where appropriate.

I have to point out we gathered about twenty questions from the community, and only a couple were asked. Both developers got so passionate about talking of the world event and the initial experience of Warlords of Draenor that they lost track of time and kept going nonstop, and we didn’t mind at all. They truly love their work on this expansion.

Transcript

Zierhut: Hi. I am Kris Zierhut, lead class designer in Warlords of Draenor. I have worked on the game for 9 years.

Burke: Steve Burke, Senior Quest designer.

Vaughan: First question – What can you tell us about the Mists of Pandaria world event leading to Warlords of Draenor?

Burke: Oh, it is a great question. We do have some things planned. I don’t know if we have released any information about it. We have a few events that are going to lead up to the intro when you actually purchase Warlords of Draenor. You are going to have a Dark Portal and Orcs are streaming through the Dark Portal. A big shout goes out for all our Azeroth heroes we have here. This is a huge crisis.

Zierhut: We are actually going to have ### content. The red orcs that come through the Dark Portal. Actually go straight back to Blackrock Mountain and take it over again before the expansion.

Burke: So it is going to make a big splash. A big impact. The portal opens and they start pouring through. You, your friends, a few of our characters are going to go through on kind of a suicide mission. It is really big with tons and tons of Orcs. You get on the other side and there are thousands of Orcs. I guess you can think of it as kinda like the Death Knight starting experience? … going through that; but this one is … kinda the tension is ratchet up quite a bit.

pax-east-2014-warlords-of-draenor-Kris-Zierhut-and-Steve-Burke

We have about an hour’s worth of gameplay that moves really fast, super-high tension, and it gives us a chance to showcase each one of these guys, give you a little glimpse at the big threat, and become familiar with them a little bit or re-familiar if you are an old Warcraft.

Zierhut: These are original villains, or if you were playing before, leaders from the original Horde back from Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Warlords has given us revisiting all those characters when the lore of Warcraft was born.

Burke: So you are going to go through this first hour real rapid fire barely getting away by the skin of your teeth. Along the way, you are going to thwart some of their efforts there, and rescue some of the denizens of the inhabitants of Draenor. The Draenei, the orc from the Frostwolf clan (Thrall’s father, the Warchief of that clan).

So you are going to rescue some of them. He is the only one who is not a bad guy here. Whereas the big Iron Horde … the rest are a congealed villainous force; and he and his clan are fighting a losing battle when you get there.

So you go through this experience right in the heart of the Iron Horde Stronghold. Get a glimpse of them. Rescue these guys and hot-tail it out of there. From there, the horde is going to go one way, and the Alliance is going to go to another.

We have got starting zones unique for both the Horde and the Alliance, which are custom tailored for them. So the Alliance are going to get to know the draenei a little bit. Work with Prophet Velen, another big old character. Akama, Maraad, and a couple of other people.

Zierhut: You discover the draenei home-base is this thing called the Temple of Karabor — which you all know as the Black Temple. So you get to see it in all its glory, when it was pristine. A central spiritual place for the draenei. You get to rescue them and protect them.

Burke: So that is a good point. We tried with this expansion to make sure we have enough of those big nostalgic hits that are going to make those connections for you; but not feel like I have been here and done that so a whole new place. New design. New art.

The horde is going to go up to Frostfire Ridge and that’s the home of the Frostwolf. Durotan is going to be on the shore meeting you with his boat coming up and he’s gonna let loose this stream of refugees to the shore. His brothers among them — Drek’thar and members of his clan that you will be reuniting with.

So he is super grateful. So grateful that he is actually going to give you a piece of his land, of his territory that you as a player will call your own, and this is (for me) it was one of the most exciting features of the expansion itself. The Garrison feature.

So when you get this piece of land you are going to be able to build buildings. You are going to choose more buildings than plots of land so you are going to have to make some choices. Each one of these buildings is going to give you some real tangible gameplay benefits to you as you go across through the expansion.

So you have got to choose carefully. As you go through with leveling up the Garrison, more plots are going to be available; but new buildings are going to become available too. So you are always going to be making those customized choices.

Also as you are going through that content, you are going to run into a lot of NPCs. Some of them are quest givers. You finish a few quests with them. They are grateful for you, and you will be able to recruit them and send them back to your Garrison.

If you rescue an Orc from a horde of ogres, he is so grateful he will come work for you in the Garrison. So gradually, as you quest through the expansion you are going to be bringing these people back. We are going to keep looping you back into that Garrison constantly. So the Garrison is really integrated to all of the gameplay.

Garrisons

Zierhut: There is no home base. There is no capital city in this expansion. Garrison is the only place where they are not out to get you.

Burke: As you keep going back to your Garrison, this story of you going through Draenor, you are going to go back to this Garrison and see all these characters and remember — oh yeah I did this, this and that. The Garrison is going to be a really vibrant environment, these NPCs aren’t just idle standing around looking at you. They are actually working in the environment. They have got wants and needs. They will go out and pursue so it kind of brings the place to life.

Garrisons

Zierhut: What is going to happen as you build up that town, you basically make decisions about which buildings to put there, which folks to recruit. Every player is going to have different choices on which building to take and not have room for every possible building you can have. Not have room for every follower you can have.

So you have very hard choices and then you are actually going to get attacked … you are going to get out there poking these guys in the eye. They don’t like it, and they are going to come in and attack your town. You are going to have to rally all your forces there to defend the Garrison from the attacks that are coming. You play side by side with the people you recruited. You can bring in your real life friends to help you out if you need to. It is an epic battle defending your Garrison.

So the other piece of (### 7:38) original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, all these villains from that game are there, but also the gameplay … I am building my own base like in an RTS. I’m making decisions on what my strategy is and how I am going to play.

Burke: It is going to come under attack more than one time. It’s going to get escalated and challenged. There are rewarding events. With those followers there is a little depth there, quite a bit. They are all going to have items: such as a weapon and a suit of armor. Each with iLevel, so you want to constantly keep upgrading those guys; and one of the ways you are going to do that is through missions.

So as you run out on a quest and run dungeons as you are coming up you get to call the shots here “OK, this is the mission. There is a big ogre with a cleave ability; and he is vulnerable to frost. So you are going to want to pick and choose which among your followers are best suited to take on that challenge.

Based on how well you match that challenge, and their level (when they level up) and their item level (based on gear). Based on those things… the chances of getting bigger and bigger rewards from that mission will increase and we show that right to you in the UI. You will be able to see how your choices are impacting the chances of success.

Zierhut: They get rewards for them; but they can also get rewards for you, and so as any of these guys are on a mission to get more powerful, so do you. So there are a lots and lots of decisions. How best to defend my town, which guys do I want on the missions, what guys do I have working on trade skills. The blacksmith is actually working, discovering new recipes for me.

You can’t do all of it. You have to make some decisions about what it is you have. As you go through the actual questing zones, you will be unlocking buildings. So for example, in one of the zones you have to make a choice. Do I want a mage tower, or do I want an armory? It is going to change the layout of your town, and what kind of forces they can handle. Do I want to get a stable or do I want to get a workshop? A cavalry I can send into battle or can I have my own tank? And those are interesting choices that affect gameplay all the way through, leveling up (9:44 ###).

Garrisons

Burke: Also there is more customizing involved. Maybe we all chose a mage tower for our Garrisons; but I put it in a different place to where he did so I go visit his garrison and it doesn’t look just like mine. It is his own personal choice. So we are really excited about that.

Zierhut: (10:00 ###)

Burke: Super excited about that feature. There is also the boost to 90s

Zierhut: The boost to 90s, it is huge. I guess one of our more important features in this expansion. If you think about World of Warcraft over the years, a lot of players have come and gone; and left off characters at various stages; and when you get in touch with one of your friends and get them to come back to play World of Warcraft; and they are like: “Ohh, yea, yea, I’m playing it.” They are really excited about it. They login; and maybe their favorite character is a Death Knight (10:29 ###) level 78. Somewhere in Northrend. Maybe Grizzly Hills … and they are like: “Alright, I’ve got all this stuff in my bags. My bags are full. I don’t remember what all these things are. What to do with them. All these quests. My quest Items … I don’t know what those are about; and my abilities, there are so many abilities; and I forget what they even do.”

There is a huge barrier there. Boost to 90s is all about getting rid of that barrier. We want you to go out. Buy Warlords of Draenor. Install it on your machine; and play it tonight with your friends.

That’s the real goal with the feature that is what we are shooting for. So to help make that possible, when you boost a character to level 90, we are gonna take all of your old items, all of your inventory, all your gear; and put it in your mailbox.

It has an unlimited time to access it, whenever you are brave enough to look at it again. Right? We are going to clear off the action bar completely, give you a whole new set of gear, clear off your quest log and then on your action bar we are going to give you just 3 or 4 abilities to a core rotation to how this character works.

So as you are playing through that intro experience that Steve was talking about, that one-hour experience — that is when you are going to be playing with these characters with only 3 or 4 core abilities on the bar. The creatures that you are fighting are designed to know you only have 3 or 4 core abilities.

So it gives you a chance to learn those abilities. Figure out how they work. After you have done a few quests maybe 10-15 minutes; and you return one of your quests, and as a reward you get to have (11:47 ###).

Now your rotation, it gets a bit more complex. There are some situational abilities. Maybe (11:50-11:54 ###). Do a few more quests, then you get maybe Polymorph, or a kick or a charge. Some abilities that you move around, and interrupt, control of things like that; and maybe some attack with say maybe a spell cast or you can interrupt him or you can crowd control him, or when he casts a spell on you … so there are different ways of dealing with it, and we ask you to use those capabilities to gradually teach you how to play the game again so it is like on the job training. Complete a few more quests, then we give you some key spells and cooldowns. There’s little guys coming at you. You put a Blizzard on and take them out; or cooldowns that help you fight.

In the whole time I can be playing next to him and I never stopped playing nothings taken away from that.
He was doing searcher work yesterday and now he is doing this with me, we don’t have to wait before we get to play with each other – his gear is amazing but mine is good enough to keep me going good to proceed with a boss round.

Burke: In this whole time, I can be playing next to him and I never stop playing. Nothing is taking away.

Zierhut: He was doing Siege of Orgrimmar yesterday, and now he is doing this with me. We don’t have to wait before we can play with each other. So his gear is amazing, but my gear is going to keep up. Good item level.

As you are going through that zone, you raid … you go side by side with your friends wherever they happen to be, they just continue playing without having to wait for people to catch up, figure out the gear and what all the buttons do. It’s on the job training to make it possible

Related to that — we have made some changes to how our Raid size work. We have added another difficulty which is Mythic Raids; and then on our Normal and Heroic Raids, you will now be able to do flexible size. You can have any number of characters between 10-25 players.

What that really means is — let’s say you have about 15 people all of them are regular players; but 3 of them didn’t show up tonight. Well, back when (13:22-13:27 ###) if three guys didn’t show up, you had to cancel the raid that day; but now we say: “Oh, we will go with 12. It will work just as fine.” Or maybe somebody’s brother wants to come and join you; and is thinking about maybe joining your guild. “Sure. Come on. No problem;” or somebody wants to leave early. That’s OK. Or come late. That’s OK too. So you can play with any flexibility.

In normal and heroics raids, you will also be able to cross-servers. So you can get your friends from other servers to come play with you. It doesn’t matter if they transferred off 3 years ago whilst playing (13:50 ###). You can have them back any time you want, and there are 3 different raid blocks. So the guy is a hardcore mythic raider and can go and do normal raids with his friends, and it doesn’t mess up (14:00 – 14:04 ###) his guild.

So as much as possible, what we are shooting for is that you get to play with your friends and moving through various stages.

Burke: So we are also optimizing a few other things in the level up experiences as you’re questing. One of the things that we are all really sensitive about — it’s bag space, and it’s been a problem for quite a while and we have talked about some different solutions; and what we are doing with this expansion is (well, for Mists of Pandaria) … our quest team rewarded you often with some kinda gimmicky toys.

Zierhut: (14:35 – 14:37 ###) Things that transform your look.

Burke: So you get a lot of these things and they are kind of cool and nifty gadgets; but they take up an inventory slot and before long you have just got all this load there. So what we are doing – and we like the idea of reward you with some playful things.

Zierhut: You can’t destroy them because they came from a quest. You destroy it and you might never get it again.

Burke: So you have to keep it. So we are offloading those onto its own tab, or toybox kind of thing (similar to Mountain Packs 15:02? ###).

Zierhut: Take all that stuff from the UI to have a single inventory. So for my case, that is going to free up 15 inventory spaces. (15:07? ###)

In addition to that, quest specific. As you are going out and collecting your furs and teeth and whatever it is you have been asked to round up — in your level up experience, or next level or whatever — those items no longer go in your inventory.

They still get tracked, just like they always did. You just don’t have that icon taking up a valuable slot. So hopefully, that is going to free things up quite a bit for us. Another change in the level up game is, back in 2004, World of Warcraft first came out, I remember kind of rolling through the game and everything was new and I wanted to look under every nook and cranny to see everywhere; and recently, we have looked back at our more recent content.

We have done more in terms of storytelling and (16:04) quest; and it might feel like you are on (16:06 ###) sometimes. So while we still want to keep those real epic stories in the zones, we are also going to reward you if you want to play like that — back in the old days. To just look under, check out every little corner, explore the back of every little microbe (16:21 ###).

There are going to be those one-time rewards that you played with a little bit in Pandaria, where you can go and —

Zierhut: (16:27 – 16:30 ###)

Burke: No competition. I get my own. He gets his own; but we will reward you for wandering around and looking around.

Zierhut: There are going to be new types of bonus objectives as you wander into an area you may uncover a bonus objective area that gives you a reward. Think about it like a very very light weight quest. Not all the story packaging; but still the elements of exploring the world and seeing everything (16:48 ###). So in the past, there have been quests through all the different areas and they kind of led everybody by the nose through every little area.

We want people to feel like they are exploring the world. People who don’t want to do all the storyline quests, you don’t have to do so many quests. Just do the core storyline quests; and get straight to level 100 as fast as they can; but people who like to explore the world and all the little nooks and crannies feel like we didn’t lead them there. They discovered it themselves. They engaged exploration of (17:15 ###). So a new emphasis on our exploration gameplay.

Vaughan: (17:20- 17:23 ###).

Zierhut: There is a main storyline if you want to do that; but there is a lot of side things you can explore or to skip.

Burke: There might be a main story, there might be three or four big storylines that make up a zone; and then there still might be the side quests that we are used to; and one of the things we’ve done now is your quest log with the UI we are actually breaking that up to where you can really see this is a chapter questline.

This is an important story – bells and whistles — and you can expect all kinds of things like The Jade Forest big cinematic at the end of that quest level. (video below)

We are doing those a lot more now. At the end of some questlines, we are doing scenarios just as a big (18:02 ###). People feel like that’s a good place for that to work. So hopefully, what that does is kinda help telegraph to the player a little bit more — hey, this is one of those quests you really want to pay attention to and follow the story and pay attention to the characters; and this one is not quite as upfront and in your face, and those bonus objective areas… we have icons on the map that just kind of call out at you, as you unveil the map.

There is stuff to do over here, even I have to go click on a guy and get a big (18:30 ###) to go there make it a little bit more light weight and help you make decisions.

Zierhut: As part of the exploration gameplay we have a new PvP area called Ashran, and what it is really trying to be is a timeslide of PvP. So this big open playground of space to explore and see what is going on. Not unlike the old Alterac Valley from the old days that would go for 3 or 4 or 5 days long.

There are all these different areas to fight over at the same time. Maybe there is that fortress the Alliance or orcs are fighting. Your forces take over the fortress, defeat the enemy, and you get a temporary bonus fighting in the zone to make yourself fight better — but that wasn’t the end of the battle.

Now (19:10 – 19:14 ###) there are various objectives to go and fetch resources to help you fight, where you are going to get more resources if you fight near the enemy fort, near the enemy side, if you are trying to collect that to help your side, if somebody kills you, they can take your stuff and use it to (19:29 ###); and that kind of stuff. So it’s a really exploration free-form PvP area that fit that World of Warcraft PvP’ness and the exploration expectations you might have.

Zierhut: As part of all this exploration gameplay, we are not gonna let you fly in Warlords of Draenor. Probably people has heard about that. I know one concern people has about not being able to fly is that “I have amazing epic flying mounts (from Mists of Pandaria), and none of them are allowed to be used in Draenor. They are no-flying zone only.”

We are removing the restrictions on them. So any flying mount will be useable on the ground and work out.

 

Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003 posting news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Next-Gen MMO, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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