Blizzard has a new developer interview with Quest designers Eric Maloof and Steve Burke about the design of Ashenvale in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.

What was the original concept for the zone?

The concept for Ashenvale was to show the effects of the Cataclysm while taking the opportunity to streamline the zone’s level design. There were areas of Ashenvale that were pretty unfriendly in terms of accessibility and quest flow. The level designers and quest designers worked together to alleviate the problem areas and highlight the big changes.

Who will be using this zone (what levels/factions)?

Both Horde and Alliance players, roughly from levels 20–25. We anticipate that this will be a well-traveled zone in terms of general player flow.

Without giving up any spoilers, what’s the general storyline for this zone? How has it changed from the original design?

Among other catastrophes, an enormous volcano has erupted in central Ashenvale. As the night elves struggle to deal with the chaos caused by the Cataclysm, the Horde is seizing what it perceives to be a golden opportunity. Garrosh Hellscream’s forces are now bearing down upon the night elves and have overtaken several key positions that once served as Alliance strongholds. There is a definite feeling that the balance of power in this region now teeters on a goblin tripwire….

These changes also mean that Horde players will have much more to do in Ashenvale.

What do you think is the most exciting new feature of the zone?

Visually, it has to be the volcano. It’s stunning, and it provides a great landmark in a place otherwise known for its dense forest. Thematically, the tension present in the zone gives it a whole new feel. The Horde is barricaded inside the walls of Splintertree Post under a massive assault by the night elves and their allies. Meanwhile, Astranaar is desperately fighting off waves of Hellscream’s forces. Practically everywhere you go in Ashenvale, it’s impossible to escape the fact that it has become a warzone.

What goes into redesigning a zone like this?

A bit more than meets the eye, we think. Ashenvale is deceptively large, and previously there were many issues in terms of quest flow and Horde/Alliance content balance. Soon after we rolled up our sleeves and broke ground, we realized that our work was cut out for us. There were numerous quests we wanted to keep, but there were also a great many that no longer fit or didn’t play out efficiently. We also needed to create a variety of new quests, especially ones “For the Horde”™.

What was the most challenging aspect about implementing these changes?

It can actually be a bit tougher to come in and “do surgery” to an existing zone than it is to completely gut it and start from scratch. Given our ambitious time constraints, trying to determine what stays, what goes, and what other changes to make is certainly a challenge.

What should players do or go see first?

Horde players should visit the Mor’shan Rampart first. There’s a new Horde contingent there who is fighting hard to make sure that no night elves escape Hellscream’s onslaught — not that they’d make it far into the Northern Barrens! Alliance players who come down from Darkshore will want to help defend Maestra’s Post and Astranaar as both settlements struggle to keep from falling under Hellscream’s control.

Who seems to have the upper hand in the zone: the Horde, the Alliance, or the elementals?

The Horde and the Alliance are throwing themselves at each other on many fronts; neither has a clear upper hand here. The elementals in Ashenvale are a minor nuisance in comparison to the faction struggle.

Should we expect any changes within Blackfathom Deeps?

There are no significant changes planned for Blackfathom Deeps at this time.

What has happened to Silverwind Refuge?

The Horde has happened!

What has changed the most: the storyline or the terrain?

The amount of change has been pretty equal between storyline and terrain. The terrain is much less frustrating than before, and the visual results of the Cataclysm tell the story as much as the quests do. Story-wise, the theme hasn’t changed so much as its intensity has.

Thanks, Eric and Steve, for taking the time to tell us about the work you’ve done to evolve a classic zone in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm!